Those who know me would say that I am pretty chill and generally very optimistic. There are very few things that truly upset me to where I physically feel it in my body. But does that mean that I handle stress well? Nope. And believe me, I am just as shocked as you are. I own a yoga studio. I practice pranayama. I meditate. I take time out during the day for self-care. I cook organic whole foods (most of the time). So why do I feel so drained sometimes? Well, a quick search on Google led me to something that was absolutely new to me: Heart Rate Variability (HRV). This is not a new term, just new to me. Heart rate variability measures the amount of time between your heartbeats, which fluctuates slightly. Fluctuations are normal and healthy and are different than an arrhythmia. Generally speaking, if the heart rate variability numbers are below 50 milliseconds (ms) it is classified as unhealthy, 50–100 ms signal health issues, and above 100 ms are healthy. So how do you know what your numbers are? Welltory is an app that I use to check my HRV and it works by using the flash and the camera on your cell phone to record short videos of your heartbeat and measures the time between heartbeats. This can give you a baseline of your HRV. So why does HRV matter? HRV is regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and is an indicator of how well the autonomic nervous system is working. The sympathetic branch of the ANS, which is associated with our fight or flight responses, is responsible for activating the production of stress hormones, increasing the heart rate and decreasing the HRV, which are all necessary for physically and mentally demanding scenarios. Whereas the parasympathetic branch, which is associated with our rest and digest responses, slows the heart and increases the HRV bringing the body back into its natural state once the stress has passed. With that, the HRV should increase during relaxing activities and decrease during stress. Now that you know what it is and how to measure it, what can you do if you need to give your HRV a reboot?
o Regular exercise o Regular eating patterns o Stay hydrated o Refrain from drinking alcohol o Sleep consistently and well o Natural light exposure (get outside) o Pranayama o Meditation o Journaling o Cold thermogenesis In my case, I go to the gym, I hike, eat at regular times, drink plenty of water and tea, don't drink much alcohol, practice and lead meditation and pranayama, so the only thing left on the list was cold thermogenesis, which is where my new research began. What is cold thermogenesis and how does it affect HRV? Cold thermogenesis is a way to cool your body through exposure to cold temperatures for a short period of time. Polar plunge, ice baths, cold showers are common examples of cold exposure, which in turn stimulates the vagus nerve which activates the parasympathetic nervous system which controls heart rate variability. Crazy! So, how do you do this at home? If you are able to tolerate a cold shower or sit in an ice bath for 2-5 minutes that is probably the most accessible way to try cold thermogenesis. For me however, I will NEVER voluntarily take a cold shower unless that is the only shower option available. My body just backs away from the cold and I cannot make myself do that. So, I found a place that does whole body cryotherapy (WBC) and after countless hours on Google and two visits to the place to ask four hundred questions I decided to try a session. For me, it was exactly what I needed, and I felt better instantly. My HRV numbers improved immediately, and I found myself anxiously awaiting my next session to keep working towards feeling better. I'm not suggesting WBC is right for everyone, but I chose to try it after nothing else seemed to work. Self-care is more than eating well and resting. It is about learning to recognize when you are feeling great and when you are feeling less than great and taking the time to find ways to work towards feeling like your best self. HRV is just one indicator of how your body is handling stress. It is looking at all of the pieces and working towards meeting your body and mind where it is each day and providing extra care when needed before something is out of whack for too long and becomes chronic.
My charts before and after cryotherapy today and one week later:
Chart before whole body cryotherapy session.
Chart after my first whole body cryotherapy session.
Chart after one week of whole body cryotherapy.