Using your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to manage anxiety

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is part of the body's autonomic nervous system (ANS), the 'rest and digest' natural healing body response, and controls its ability to relax. In this article, we'll explore how heart rate variability training can help to reduce feelings of anxiety.


Heart rate variability - how can it indicate well-being?

Heart rate variability (HRV) is used to measure the variation in time between successive heartbeats. It's considered an indicator of the autonomic nervous system's activity and has implications for overall health and well-being.

A low heart rate variability (HRV) reflects an imbalance in the sympathetic-parasympathetic nervous system, indicating reduced adaptability and increased stress. It can negatively affect health in ways such as:

  • Mental health: Issues like depression, mood disorders, chronic stress, anxiety, low emotional well-being and resilience. 
  • Cardiovascular issues: Higher blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms and a higher likelihood of heart disease.
  • Immune function: Individuals are more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  • Chronic inflammation: Risk factor for various diseases, including autoimmune disorders and metabolic conditions.
  • Recovery: Athletes with low HRV may experience slower recovery after intense workouts and are at a higher risk of overtraining and injury.
  • Digestive issues: Can affect digestion and lead to gastrointestinal problems.

What are the benefits of HRV training for managing anxiety?

1. Stress reduction

HRV training promotes relaxation by increasing the variability in the time intervals between heartbeats, which is associated with reduced stress and anxiety.

2. Improved resilience

Regular HRV training can enhance your body's ability to adapt to stress, making you more resilient in the face of anxiety-inducing situations.

3. Better emotional regulation

By improving autonomic nervous system balance, HRV training can help regulate emotions, making it easier to cope with anxiety.

4. Increased mindfulness

HRV biofeedback can increase awareness of your body's responses to stress, allowing you to better control anxious thoughts and reactions.

5. Enhanced sleep

Improved HRV is linked to better sleep quality, which can help reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being.

The impact of HRV training on overall health can be significant and provide benefits beyond anxiety and stress management, such as cardiovascular and respiratory health, lung function and physical performance, digestion, reduced inflammation and blood pressure, etc.

Can I improve my heart rate variability at home?

Improving your HRV at home involves adopting various lifestyle changes and practices that promote relaxation, reduce stress, and enhance your overall well-being. Here are some strategies to help improve HRV:

  • breathing exercises 
  • hypnotherapy for parasympathetic activation 
  • meditation and mindfulness
  • exercise, yoga, aerobics, strength training 
  • adequate sleep
  • healthy diet
  • social connections
  • reduce screen time
  • biofeedback training

What is biofeedback training?

Biofeedback training is a type of mind-body technique you use to control some of your body's functions, such as your heart rate, breathing patterns and muscle responses. You are connected to a little device, that gives you information about your body and helps you to achieve a higher HRV over time. 

With the training, you will effectively strengthen the parasympathetic system, your 'rest and digest system', resulting in improved HRV.

It's important to note that while low HRV can indicate health risks, it is not a direct cause of these issues. Rather, it's a marker of an underlying imbalance in the autonomic nervous system. Addressing the root causes of low HRV through lifestyle changes, stress management techniques, and medical interventions can help improve overall health and well-being. 

Remember that improving HRV takes time and consistency. It's essential to monitor your progress and make adjustments as needed. You can use smartphone apps or wearable devices to track your HRV over time. It is advisable to consult with a trained coach to create a personalised plan for improving your HRV safely.

If you are ready to make a change, email me today. I'm here to help!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Manchester M25 & M26
Written by Carolina Ramirez Valencia, Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist for Anxiety
Manchester M25 & M26

Hi, I'm Carolina, I made my mission to make therapy accessible to everyone, I offer tailored solutions for anxiety, worry, stress, and health management. Through an integrative research-lead approach, I accompany my clients in the journey to re-establish the balance in their mind and body. I enjoy s...

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