Under Pressure


A heart rate changes with every beat, even when a person is sitting still. The heart rate variability is affected by both the sympathetic nervous system—the signal to gear up for a stressful situation—and the parasympathetic nervous system, which tells the body to relax. When a person is angry or upset, the heart receives mixed messages, causing a jerky heart pattern. This extra wear-and-tear causes blood pressure to rise.

Luckily, when the emotional state is shifted, the heart rate can be physically affected. In turn, the entire physiological system works more efficiently. One popular stress buster is a technique called Freeze Frame. Begin by recognizing the stressful feeling and freeze-frame it. Then shift the focus away from the racing mind or disturbed emotions. Breathe through the heart area to help focus the energy for 10 seconds or more. Recall a positive feeling or time and attempt to re-experience it. Then, ask the heart what would be a more efficient response to the situation—one that will minimize future stress. Using this one-minute practice regularly can help keep blood pressure at safe levels.

Rollin McCraty, M.A., director of research at the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, CA. The HeartMath Solution (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999) explains the research behind the Freeze Frame technique.