Effects of stress on heart rate complexity--a comparison between short-term and chronic stress

Biol Psychol. 2009 Mar;80(3):325-32. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2008.11.005. Epub 2008 Dec 3.


This study examined chronic and short-term stress effects on heart rate variability (HRV), comparing time, frequency and phase domain (complexity) measures in 50 healthy adults. The hassles frequency subscale of the combined hassles and uplifts scale (CHUS) was used to measure chronic stress. Short-term stressor reactivity was assessed with a speech task. HRV measures were determined via surface electrocardiogram (ECG). Because respiration rate decreased during the speech task (p<.001), this study assessed the influence of respiration rate changes on the effects of interest. A series of repeated-measures analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) with Bonferroni adjustment revealed that short-term stress decreased HR D2 (calculated via the pointwise correlation dimension PD2) (p<.001), but increased HR mean (p<.001), standard deviation of R-R (SDRR) intervals (p<.001), low (LF) (p<.001) and high frequency band power (HF) (p=.009). Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and LF/HF ratio did not change under short-term stress. Partial correlation adjusting for respiration rate showed that HR D2 was associated with chronic stress (r=-.35, p=.019). Differential effects of chronic and short-term stress were observed on several HRV measures. HR D2 decreased under both stress conditions reflecting lowered functionality of the cardiac pacemaker. The results confirm the importance of complexity metrics in modern stress research on HRV.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Electrocardiography / methods
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors