Stress, Heart Rate Variance and the Wim Hof Method

TL;DR – I recommend getting a fitness tracker that measures Heart Rate Variability so you can see any changes in your Autonomic Nervous System that suggest you are stressed out. Then try resonant breathing (I use the Wim Hof Method) to lower these stress levels.

When I started teaching I had a school leader tell me that when the pressure got high I should talk to him and let him know, so he could help. And not try to deal with it all myself. He told me about teachers regularly drinking half a bottle of wine every night to relax and how badly the stress of the job then built on them, making everything worse.

I remember that despite this good advice, alcohol was definitely the go-to for stress reduction amongst lots of colleagues, just like it is for million of other adults in the UK.

One summer I was at an Italian friends house (mentioned because her family drinks wine with each evening meal) cooking dinner and I mentioned that the first glass of wine tends to go down quicker than the rest. She said I need to keep an eye on that because it might quickly turn from appreciation to medicine. A sobering realisation. Pun firmly intended.

I started to try and measure my stress. I bought a Garmin Fenix 5+ for exercise tracking, but also for ANS monitoring. I measured my stress levels at set times every day, and tried to standardise the conditions. They were ridiculously high. For example, on my watch if it shows 10-25 is at rest, I was regularly clocking 75 before even starting work. This measurement of HRV suggested that my stress might have a negative impact on my blood pressure and heart rate, so I endeavoured to do something about them.

I started doing cold exposure and resonant meditative breathing (Wim Hof Method)  initially because it helped with training and recovery, but then noticed that it massively reduced my negative ANS responses – when I measured at the same locations and times, it was dropping to low 40s.

Then I went to meet Wim when he was in London, and did more extreme cold exposure ice bath stuff, and felt brilliant. The breathing and meditation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (via the vagus nerve) and switches the body out of fight or flight into rest mode.

I would definitely recommend the Wim Hof method over the Merlot Method.

This year has not been normal, and trying to tell people to be less stressed seems like a stupid thing to do. At an interview a couple of weeks ago I was asked if I agreed with the statement ‘a problem is just an opportunity to grow’. I said a problem is a problem, and if someone comes to you for help, saying that to them would be completely unhelpful.

I got the job, so I assume they agreed with me.

But collecting YOUR data and using it to make healthier choices, might be something that you want to consider.

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