Relationships between respiratory sinus arrhythmia and stress in college students

J Behav Med. 2020 Apr;43(2):308-317. doi: 10.1007/s10865-019-00103-7. Epub 2019 Oct 12.


The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between university students' respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) profiles and both retrospective and momentary ratings of stress. Participants were undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory health science course (N = 64). Participants provided RSA data at rest (tonic) and following an orthostatic challenge (phasic), completed the 10-item Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), and completed 6 daily ecological momentary assessments (EMA) of stress for 1 week. Higher tonic RSA was associated with lower perceived stress assessed via PSS and average EMA responses. Those with higher tonic RSA did not differ in their experience of stress across the week, whereas those with lower tonic RSA experienced increased stress across the week, and these trajectories varied as a function of phasic responses. These findings suggest a need for greater emphasis on behavioral strategies for maintaining and enhancing autonomic nervous system health among college students.

Keywords: Assessment; Autonomic nervous system; Health; Stress.

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia / physiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Young Adult