HeartMath® for Stress, Anxiety, and Emotional Regulation

Posted By: Jimmy R Leverette Clinical Practice,

a red heart with a white heart rate

As clinician,s we constantly seek to expand our knowledge base regarding research, training, and new techniques to aid us in our work with clients. At times, the techniques we and our clients have relied upon to cope with stress, anxiety, and emotional dysregulation may no longer be effective. A very productive approach in the management of stress, anxiety, and emotional dysregulation is known as HeartMath. As a trained practitioner of HeartMath, I can attest to the positive impact I have experienced with clients and as it pertains to my own stress level.

HeartMath is a program that consists of six, 60-minute classes designed to help clinicians and healthcare practitioners across a variety of fields. HeartMath explains and leverages the connection between the heart, body, and mind. The goal is to help clients establish a new psychophysiological baseline, which promotes emotional regulation and behavioral change. If there was a one-word goal for HeartMath it would be ‘coherence.’ Coherence refers to the optimal state in which the heart, mind, and emotions are harmoniously aligned. HeartMath seeks to provide clinicians with the tools necessary to combine self-awareness with emotional regulation skills to achieve this coherence.

Several tenets define the foundation from which HeartMath is understood. The first is that emotions are the primary driving force of our physiology and can deplete or renew our physiological or psychological energy. Two, the heart is uniquely connected to the brain and body and plays a major role in our emotional experience. The messages the heart sends to the brain affect physiological regulation, perception, emotions, behavior, performance, and health. Three, emotions have a major impact on and can be reflected in heart-rate variability (HRV) patterns that can be observed using biofeedback technology clinicians can be trained to use. Four, adding these emotion regulation skills found in HeartMath to other therapeutic modalities can increase positive outcomes for our clients.

HeartMath makes effective use of two biofeedback devices to help clients achieve coherence. The emWave® Pro is a scientifically validated heart rate monitoring system that facilitates learning techniques to create an optimal state in which the heart, mind and emotions are operating in a coherent state. It achieves this by displaying heart-rhythm patterns (HRV) in real-time to display the client’s level of coherence or lack thereof. Using a pulse sensor plugged into a USB port, emWave Pro collects data and translates this coherence information into graphics displayed on the computer screen. Through coherence techniques, emWave Pro helps clients achieve a coherent state, increased energy, and emotional balance.

The Inner Balance App and Sensor is also an incredibly effective biofeedback device which helps clients achieve coherence. This is widely used and the device I utilized most when I worked with patients in an inpatient hospitalization setting. The process is very user friendly and can be fun to use. The clinician first visits the app store and downloads the Inner Balance App to their phone. Next, they attach the pulse sensor to the client’s earlobe and turns it on. The sensor connects itself to the app on the clinician’s phone. The app then guides the client through a targeted breathing exercise for a period of three minutes or less. Once the exercise has concluded, the app directs to a graphic where the client can indicate their emotional state using an emoji. After this, the app displays a report based on its reading of the client’s heart rhythm, including heart rate, coherence score, amount of time spent in the breathing exercise, and in app points accrued based on the client’s performance. Also, from reading the client’s heart rhythm the clinician gets a clue into the client’s emotional state, and thus has an avenue to process what the client is feeling and thinking while doing the breathing exercise, which can be rich therapeutic material.

For more on HeartMath please visit heartmath.com


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