Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Heart rate variability and emotion regulation

Heart rate variability and emotion regulation:
What is the relationship between HRV and emotion regulation?


We all experience stressful and emotionally challenging situations at various points in our lives and trying to control and regulate our emotions can be difficult. How we cope with these emotions in adulthood stems from how we grew up coping with our emotions throughout childhood. [1] It is important to understand what we do to cope with our emotions and how to regulate these emotions properly, because if we are not able to regulate our emotions, we could risk serious damage to our mental and physical health.

High heart rate variability (HRV) is strongly associated with high emotional well-being and a regulated emotional responding, resulting in lower amounts of worry and rumination and anxiety (Mather & Thayer, 2018). Therefore, people who have higher HRV appear to be good at regulating their emotions. However, is has not been made clear whether these studies have been able to link HRV to increasing prefrontal relation effectiveness or if it merely just is an output measure for regulatory brain health (Mather & Thayer, 2018).

Focus questions

  • What is HRV?
  • What is emotion regulation?
  • What improves emotion regulation?
  • What impacts emotion regulation?
  • Is HRV merely an output measure for regulatory brain health?

Heart Rate VariabilityEdit

Figure 1. This is a diagram of an example of Heart Rate Variability, shows the difference in HRV when it comes to stress,focus and relaxation.

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measure of the exact variation in time, [grammar?] between each heartbeat [grammar?] refer to figure 1. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is a primitive part of the nervous system which the variation is controlled by (Malik & Camm, 1994)[awkward expression?]. The ANS works to automatically regulate an individuals[grammar?] heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and digestion among many key tasks ("Heart rate variability: How it might indicate well-being - Harvard Health", 2022). This system is divided further into two major components: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, see Figure 2 [2].

The importance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in HRVEdit

Research published during there [grammar?] last decade based on established clinical data from numerous studies considers a strong link between decreased global HRV and cardiac and/ or arrhythmic mortality, particularly in patients who suffer from myocardial infarction (MI) and (CHF) congestive heart failure (Sztajzel, 2004).

Figure 2. This is a digram[spelling?] of the autonomic nervous system.
How to measure HRV?Edit

HRV measurements comprise of time domain indices which is the observed amount of HRV during monitoring periods. Measurements are usually performed on a 24-hour Holter recording basis which is a long-term recording or in short-term recordings ranging from 0.5 to 5 minutes (Mather & Thayer, 2018). It typically depends on which type of study is being conducted to determine whether to use long- or short-term recording (Mather & Thayer, 2018).

It is important to understand that in healthy individuals high HRV is not just a result of random variability (Mather & Thayer, 2018). Instead, a great percentage of the variability is a result of the heart responding to physiological oscillatory signals, such as blood pressure feedback and the individuals[grammar?] breathing to such a degree, [grammar?] that the individuals[grammar?] heart rate slows down and speeds up at certain frequencies in a rhythmic pattern (Mather & Thayer, 2018).

Emotion RegulationEdit

Emotions are purely basic features of how we function as humans and learning how to regulate them is an important and rewarding developmental milestone (DeStano, Gross & Kubzansky, 2013). Our emotional functioning patterns that become apparent during childhood, are usually maintained into adulthood and in some cases, it may provide as an early indicator of possible health concerns during adulthood (DeStano, Gross & Kubzansky, 2013).

Emotion regulation looks at the extrinsic and intrinsic processes, which are responsible for monitoring, modifying, and evaluating emotional reactions within individuals (Thompson, 1991).

Figure 3. Toddler pictured showing emotion through facial expressions.

Recent studies have shown a strong link between chronic high childhood distress, which is typically measured around age 7 or 8 and various adult physical health outcomes. These outcomes include inflammation, obesity and physical illnesses due to little to no use of proper emotion regulation, during childhood leading into adulthood (DeStano, Gross & Kubzansky, 2013).

Theories used in emotion regulationEdit

Many theories and models have been used when explaining the processes of emotion regulation within individuals. An important model that lays out the basis of emotion regulation and is believed to be the most developed model there is of emotion regulation is the James Gross’ (1998, 2002) process model (Strauss et al., 2013). James Gross’s model suggested that emotions and responses develop through a process of multiple components (Strauss et al., 2013).

Fictional Case StudyEdit

John has just woken up feeling quite sad about his day. He had a bad day at work the previous day and he is not looking forward to going into work again today. John had been contemplating all morning calling in sick because he was feeling too upset to go into work today (see figure 4). However, John decided that he needed to make the situation right at work by trying to explain how he is feeling to his boss and that a solution could possibly come out of the conversation he has with his boss that could benefit how John is feeling. After some thought John decided to get ready and make his way to work feeling a little better knowing that there may be a solution to how he is feeling.

Figure 4: Drawing of animated character feeling sad and anxious, is a reflection of John in the fictional case study.

The process model in John’s case study outlines how the initial situation John was experiencing was a bad experience John had at work the previous day. John then had the choice whether there was an emotional response due to the initial situation [3]. The response John had to the situation was feeling upset. However John had also finally had an overall response to the situation which benefit John in the end quite well [4]. John had decided to talk to someone about what had been bothering him the previous day at work and with that John actually felt a little better.

Emotional regulation is a highly personal journey. Some people might have been raised with great coping skills as children, whilst others unfortunately had very little to no behavioural support growing up. However, emotional regulation is a learned skill and like most skills it can be improved and/or learned with practice over time. There are several methods which may help assist people with regulating their emotions including meditation and breathing techniques ("What is it and why is it important. Alvarado Parkway Institute: Behavioural Health System", 2016)

Quiz QuestionsEdit

1 Emotion regulation looks only at intrinsic processes:


2 Is breathing a physiological oscillatory signal:



Emotion regulation and heart rate variability are linked to each other in a way that one usually cannot occur without the other[factual?]. Being able to regulate your emotions especially from an early age leading into adulthood may result in your HRV being high thus lowering the risk of physical illness and impacts on the body[factual?]. However, if during childhood there was no behavioural support given which then trickled into adulthood without the individual having the opportunity, skills and resources to learn how to regulate their emotions along the way, can severely risk their physical health[grammar?]. This can be measured using the HRV as a measure to indicate whether the individual has a low HRV signifying that the body is working hard for some reason which in some cases may be due to stress or anxiety. HRV is not merely an output measure for regulatory brain health but can measure the physical health of the individual, [grammar?] by analysing the individual’s emotional regulation processes. Emotional regulation can be learned during childhood and adulthood, however if an individual has poor emotional regulation, they could potentially have damaging impacts in the brain, mentally and physically.

See alsoEdit


DeSteno, D., Gross, J. J., & Kubzansky, L. (2013). Affective Science and Health: The Importance of Emotion and Emotion Regulation. Health Psychology, 32 (5), 474-486. 10.1037/a0030259

Heart rate variability: How it might indicate well-being - Harvard Health. Harvard Health. (2022). Retrieved 28 August 2022, from

Malik, M., & Camm, A. (1994). Heart rate variability and clinical cardiology. Heart, 71(1), 3-6.

Mather, M., & Thayer, J. (2018). How heart rate variability affects emotion regulation brain networks. Current opinion in behavioural sciences, 19, 98-104. 10.1016/j.cobeha.2017.12.017

Strauss, G. P., Kappenman, E. S., Culbreth, A. J., Catalano, L. T., Lee, B., & Gold, J. (2013). Emotion regulation abnormalities in schizophrenia: cognitive change strategies fail to decrease the neural response to unpleasant stimuli. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 39.

Sztajzel, J. (2004). Heart rate variability: a noninvasive electrocardiographic method to measure the autonomic nervous system. Swiss Medical Weekly, 134.35-36, 514-522. 10.4414/smw.2004.10321

Thompson, R. (1991). Emotional regulation and emotional development. Educational Psychology Review, 3(4), 269-307.

Unknown. (2016). Emotional regulation: What is it and why is it important. Alvarado Parkway Institute: Behavioural Health System.

Yih, J., Uusberg, A., Taxer, L. J., & Gross, J. J. (2018). Better together: A unified perspective on appraisal and emotion regulation. Cognition and Emotion, 33 (1), 41-47. 10.1080/02699931.2018.1504749

External linksEdit

  1. "Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Emotion regulation in children - Wikiversity". Retrieved 2022-10-17.
  2. "Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Autonomic nervous system and emotion - Wikiversity". Retrieved 2022-10-18.
  3. "Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Emotion regulation in children - Wikiversity". Retrieved 2022-10-18.
  4. "Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Emotion regulation in children - Wikiversity". Retrieved 2022-10-18.