Work-related stress & HRV

Once Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, was asked what surprised him most about humanity, he replied:

The human being. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to regain his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result is that he does not live in the present; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived.

This quote contains a great deal of the truth. Many people enjoy their work. Work is an important part of their identity. But what happens when work is no longer enjoyable and stress is outweighed?

Heart rate variability (HRV) gives us the answer to this question.


Long-term stress is a health risk in modern society and is associated with many diseases, such as cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases. Stress does not only make the body, but also the soul sick, thus is involved in the development of many mental illnesses. Therefore, it is not surprising that stress research is very important.

For this reason, the Finnish researchers examined the heart rate variability and their relationship to stress at work in their systematic review.

Heart rate variability and occupational stress- A systematic review

The review article by Järvelin-Pasanen, Sinikallio and Tarvainen (2018) included ten studies, on 179 test persons at the age of 41 years. The stress level was evaluated using standardized questionnaires. HRV was measured by Holter ECG. The researchers investigated time-, frequency-dependent and nonlinear HRV parameters.

The most important realization of this work is that an increase of the subjective perceived stress level can be determined physically by a reduced HRV. This is shown especially by a reduction of the parasympathetic nervous system. HRV parameters, which are reduced: RMSSD und High-Frequency (HF). In addition to this, an autonomous dysbalance can be noticed in the increased LF / HF ratio.


This review shows that HRV is an important function in the observation of work-related stress and its impact on human health. Furthermore, this medically-based method can be used to compare the results of many studies dealing with stress, and thus to achieve an objectification of the subjective feeling.


JARVELIN-PASANEN, S., SINIKALLIO, S. & TARVAINEN, M. P. 2018. Heart rate variability and occupational stress-systematic review. Ind Health.

Image source: Adobe Stock Photo –  Tiko, File Number 137708989

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