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6 Oct
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How to Find Out if You Are Likely to be Susceptible to Stress

I’ve just been reading an interesting article about some research that was looking to see if heart rate variability might be an indicator of susceptibility to stress. Participants (undergraduate students) had their heart rate measured during a low-stress period of the academic year. Then, still attached to the monitor, they were led to imagine worrying scenarios in their future lives. As well as this they were given some questionnaires.

The participating students returned a few months later just before their final exams, and went through the whole thing again.

It seems there was a correlation between heart rate variability and the level of psychological distress being experienced about the finals.

The suggestion is that doctors could measure the interval between heartbeats (apparently easy to measure) to screen people for susceptibility to stress. It also suggests that breathing techniques might be useful in reducing stress levels because breathing practises can be used to lower heart rate.

All this is very interesting – and I mean that most sincerely, folks – but I know when I’m anxious, or stressed. I don’t need someone to measure my heart-rate variability in order to tell me what I already know. I’ve known it since I was old enough to realise that I found some things more difficult to cope with than most other people. Most of the people I treat for anxiety don’t need to be wired up to a machine in order to be told what they already know.

This, for me at least, highlights a serious problem with the medical profession. They seem to be moving further and further away from talking to, and listening to, patients. They seem to be totally dependent on a machine to tell them what’s wrong with someone when that person already knows what the problem is and just wants some help.

I guess my heart-rate variability is well in the band of easily stressed – but so what? All I ever wanted from the medics was help. All I ever got was pills.

And it seems to me that this bit of research will, most likely, lead to the development of an expensive stress-evaluating bit of fancy electronics that will sit in a clinic somewhere and generate income for the manufacturer and the tranquilliser peddlers .

I know I’m easily stressed but I got more value from Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person, than I ever did from all the pills I swallowed over the years.

Some people are more sensitive than others. Some people find it difficult to cope with the problems and challenges of life. Some people find it difficult to function in a world full of rules that don’t make any sense to them. But they don’t need to be connected to a machine in order to discover that – they already know.

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