Influence of Mental Stress on Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability

Conference paper
Part of the IFMBE Proceedings book series (IFMBE, volume 22)


Stress is a huge problem in today’s society. Being able to measure stress, therefore, may help to address this problem. Although stress has a psychological origin, it affects several physiological processes in the human body: increased muscle tension in the neck, change in concentration of several hormones and a change in heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV). The brain innervates the heart by means of stimuli via the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which is divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. The sympathetic activity leads to an increase in HR (e.g. during sports exercise), while parasympathetic activity induces a lower HR (e.g. during sleep). The two circuits are constantly interacting and this interaction is reflected in HRV. HRV, therefore, provides a measure to express the activity of the ANS, and may consequently provide a measure for stress. We therefore explored measures of HR and HRV with an imposed stressful situation. We recorded changes in HR and HRV in a group of 28 subjects at rest, and with a mental stressor. The results suggest that HR and HRV change with a mental task. HR and HRV recordings may have the potential, therefore, to measure stress levels and guide preventive measures to reduce stress related illnesses.


mental stress heart rate heart rate variability 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Katholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Electrical EngineeringKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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