Stress and HRV

Stress kills! Two of the most powerful metrics the daily HRV reading produces measure stress. This article will help you to understand the metrics, and give you tips on how to lower your stress levels.


In 1967, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, two psychiatrists working at the University of Washington produced a paper that measures the impact of life changes on health[1]The Social Readjustment Rating Scale. They developed a rating scale[2]What Is the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale? for various types of experience, that when added together would produce an accumulated stress score for events that occurred during the past year. If the score is in excess of 300, there is an 80% probability of suffering a life-changing illness within the next two years.

When I arrived in Switzerland, my SRRS score was 394. Aware of the risks, I adopted an active lifestyle to mitigate the threat. My ex-wife who was experiencing even higher levels of stress was not so fortunate. 

The SRRS test is available on the HRV Health Platform from the menus: Metrics->Stress tests->Stress test.

The HRV stress metrics

The daily HRV stress reading produces two stress metrics: Stress Index and Stress. They are similar, and we offer both so that you can elect which of them you prefer to use.

When using the stress index, a figure above 150 is an indication of excess stress. A figure above 10 for the stress metric is considered excessive. There is a negative correlation between RMSSD and the stress metrics. The lower the RMSSD, the higher the levels of stress. This stands to reason. High stress levels are an indication of poor health, as are low RMSSD figures.

What can you do to reduce stress?

Late in 2022, we started to experience problems with HRV Health’s Internet hosting service provider. We decided to migrate to another hosting service, an extremely stressful experience, which is documented in another article[3]HRV Health migration.

My stress levels on the HRV reading confirmed the impact of the problems of the migration. It provided an ideal opportunity to test the theory of the steps that can be taken to reduce stress:


One of HRV Health’s users had been advocating the benefits of breathing. It was time to see whether it worked. It did[4]Breathing to improve your health.


It’s common knowledge that stress disrupts sleep, and that poor sleep has a negative impact on health. It becomes a vicious cycle, that is reflected in a rapid decline in RMSSD. 

Getting good sleep is a science, that has more to do with behaviour than the quality of your mattress. 

As with any science, accurate measurement is crucial, and finding a technology that worked was an important step. Many of the devices I tried could not differentiate between times when I was inactive – say reading, or watching TV, and sleep. After much testing, I discovered the Amazfit GTS 3 which did the trick. Since then, I’ve moved on to the Garmin Fenix 7X which is a slight improvement[5]Using wearables to measure HRV.

Getting good sleep is a matter of good habits. Going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Weekends and weekdays.

Doing the Wim Hof breathing just before getting into bed helps falling asleep quickly, as does reading for half an hour or so before switching off the light.

A good pillow makes a big difference to how comfortable you are, and correspondingly, how well you sleep.

Temperature is crucial. Being too warm is not conducive to good sleep. It is best for your body temperature to drop a little when you climb into bed.

Make sure all of your devices are either switched off, or programmed not to wake you up until your alarm goes off.

Eliminate any ambient light.

Create an environment that eliminates the potential for any noise while you sleep. 

Avoid taking naps after midday.


Exercise that gets the blood flowing, whether it is pilates, yoga, running, walking, skiing or cycling promotes good health and reduces stress. Exercise is what helped me survive the stress upon arrival in Switzerland and during the migration.

Exercise also promotes good sleep.


Alcohol induces sleep apnea. It does not promote good sleep, and dependent on the type of alcohol can actually promote higher levels of stress. It is not a solution.

During the migration period, I adopted a policy of intermittent fasting, eating my last meal of the day at 15:00. This has a dual benefit of good sleep and easy weight control. In previous years, I’ve found that I always picked up a couple of kilos doing winter. Not this year.


Prescribed medication works. It is a last resort. I avoid resorting to chemicals as there are almost always side effects.


Stress is very personal. We tend to exaggerate the impact of events, and with that the stress increases. Having the support of friends and family can have an enormous impact on how we feel about stressors. 

Professional guidance can make all the difference and, especially in the case of trauma, is highly recommended.


Reading is an excellent activity to reduce stress, particularly when the subject matter provides perspective.

The geopolitics of the modern era has produced some troubling times. I was in the Republic of Georgia when Russia attacked that country, and have long maintained the Putin poses a threat to international peace. The failings of the United Nations provides no reassurance[6]The UN is past its sell by date. This is where books have helped.

Reading about other times, particularly under the great leaders including Lincoln, Churchill, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and the troubles of the science greats including Bell and Tesla has helped me to understand today is no worse than those times. It’s a pity that even with all the lessons of the past, it is still not any better.

Even if non-fiction does not inspire you, reading provides effective escape, and with that has a positive impact on stress.

Weekends and holidays

The positive impact of proper breaks away from the stressors of work, and daily tedium can be seen with their impact on the stress metrics. We have numerous executives using the HRV Health Platform. When they join, in almost all cases their stress metrics have revealed the effect of their responsibilities.

Complete breaks from work are almost the single most important factor that has brought their stress levels down to acceptable levels.

Removing the source of the stress

It is always surprising to see how often people have little awareness of their stress levels. This is especially the case when the stress has become normal.

This is particularly true when the stress is the result of conflict in an important relationship, whether at work or at home.

If your metrics reflect this stress, it is time to make peace. If you can’t do it on your own, get the help of a mediator. 


The power of HRV Health’s metrics is that they give your the insight of the impact of lifestyle factors on your stress, and to take positive steps towards living a better healthier life.

Many of our users have used the suggestions listed above, and all have seen a positive impact on their stress levels. 

You can too!