Mental Health and ANS

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as:

“…a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” (WHO | Mental health: a state of well-being  2014)

Galderisi et al. (2015) builds on this definition and adds a further dimension

“Mental health is a dynamic state of internal equilibrium which enables individuals to use their abilities in harmony with universal values of society. Basic cognitive and social skills; ability to recognize, express and modulate one’s own emotions, as well as empathize with others; flexibility and ability to cope with adverse life events and function in social roles; and harmonious relationship between body and mind represent important components of mental health which contribute, to varying degrees, to the state of internal equilibrium”

In Galderisi’s definition there are a few familiar components, but let’s briefly discuss internal equilibrium. Internal equilibrium is taken to mean bodily equilibrium is achieved when our physiology is in balance. This is important because as Dr Alan Watkins describes it;

“ what is really driving our behaviour is our thinking. And what we think, and how well we think it, is largely determined by our feelings, which are driven by our emotions, which are made up of our physiology.” (Watkins 2014)

So if we know how to manage our physiology we are better positioned to handle life’s different stressors.

The system that is responsible for managing our physiology is the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Fortunately, it is possible to measure the state of our ANS and therefore our mental health by measuring our heart rate variability (HRV).

Measuring our HRV is useful for two reasons; one because sometimes we don’t recognise when we are out of balance and we can, therefore, take steps to manage the situation. Secondly, we can determine which combination of strategies works best to achieve a balanced state.

We’ll talk about our HRV measurement tools in our next post.

Galderisi, S, Heinz, A, Kastrup, M, Beezhold, J & Sartorius, N 2015, ‘Toward a new definition of mental health’, World Psychiatry, vol. 14, no. 2, Jun, pp. 231-3.

Watkins, A 2014, Coherence, 1 edn, Kogan Page Limited

WHO | Mental health: a state of well-being,  2014, World Health Organization, viewed <>.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s