Category Archives: Stage Fright

Measuring Stress

We have spoken about Heart Rate variability (HRV), stress and performance in the last few posts. In todays post I want to highlight some ways that you can measure your HRV. To recap, heart rate variability (HRV) is a well-understood phenomenon allowing us to monitor objectively physiological stress (Altini 2018a). If we can monitor stress (good and bad) then we can act before it has a negative impact and use it to improve our performance. (Marcelo Campos 2017)) for more on this.

Now we know why, how do we actually measure it? There are several easy to use devices which measure your HRV either by ear clip, wired finger clip, chest strap, Bluetooth finger clip or your camera phone and now your watch.  Some manufacturers I have used are:

  • EliteHRV (@elitehrv 2018)
  • Hrv4Training (Altini 2018b)
  • Ithlete (@myithlete 2018)
  • Complete Coherence (Watkins 2018)
  • Biocom Technologies ( 2018)

I have also used the Polar V800 for the collection data which I then export and analyse with KUBIOS hrv software.  This export function is no longer available from Polar as they have incorporated the analysis of the data into the watch itself. Their new watch Vantage V (PolarGlobal 2018) still has the optical sesnors on the back of the watch for the collection of heart data but still uses their chest strap for the collection of HRV data to ensure accuracy

 When measuring HRV it is important to:

  • Have accurate data
  • Avoid confounding factors such as coffee or recording after a late night
  • Take a recording first thing in the morning upon waking, at the same time and position eg sitting.
  • Take it 4-5 times a week for 4 – 5 minutes each time.

(Schwellnus et al. 2016) highlights the importance of collecting both subjective and objective data in order to draw meaningful conclusions.  Ensure the platform you choose allows for this.

Next post we’ll talk about HRV and teams.

@elitehrv 2018, Elite HRV – Heart Rate Variability, @elitehrv, viewed <>.

@myithlete 2018, ithlete heart rate variability training tool, @myithlete, viewed <>.

Altini, M 2018a, ‘Heart Rate Variability: a (deep) primer’, hrv4training, 23/11/2017,<>.

Altini, M 2018b, hrv4training, viewed <>. 2018, Health Assessment products with Heart Rate Variability Analysis (HRV), viewed <>.

Marcelo Campos, M 2017, Heart rate variability: A new way to track well-being  – Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School, viewed 15 November, <>.

PolarGlobal 2018, Polar Vantage V | High-end multisport & triathlon watch for ambitious athletes | Polar Global, viewed 16 November, <>.

Schwellnus, M, Soligard, T, Alonso, J-M, Bahr, R, Clarsen, B, Dijkstra, HP, Gabbett, TJ, Gleeson, M, Hägglund, M, Hutchinson, MR, Janse Van Rensburg, C, Meeusen, R, Orchard, JW, Pluim, BM, Raftery, M, Budgett, R & Engebretsen, L 2016, ‘How much is too much? (Part 2) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on load in sport and risk of illness’, British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 50, no. 17, pp. 1043-1052.

Watkins, A 2018, Coherence Trainer, viewed <>.

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 <>.

How to stop night time anxiety

It’s been a long, tiring day and you’re feeling shattered. Finally you crawl into bed, physically exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep… only to find your mind has other ideas. Instead of drifting off into weightless slumber, your brain fires up, your pulse quickens and your head becomes crowded with endless worries you thought had been parked for the day.

Source: How to stop night time anxiety

Brain science suggests “mind wandering” can help manage anxiety – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publications

The wandering mind can get stuck on negative thoughts. Naming the negative feeling and then helping your mind wander in a more positive direction can help.

Source: Brain science suggests “mind wandering” can help manage anxiety – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publications

Presentation Anxiety

The results were outstanding with levels of anxiety reduced significantly. I was short on time and had many people to coach.  So I implemented a program of short interventions over a 12-week period.  This is what we did:


Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Presentation Anxiety


In addition to my coaching and facilitation work I also tutor and guest lecture in communication. Last semester I decided to offer free coaching to those students who suffer from presentation anxiety. This coaching had to occur at the end of the tutorial and before my next class started.  So I had about 20 – 30 minutes to work with the students.  Two at a time.  In total I had about 14 students. Over 10 weeks.


The backbone of the coaching was HRV and how they can create physiological, emotional and consequently cognitive coherence.  I also taught them basic delivery and structuring skills.


  1. Students reported that they were dropping into states of coherence automatically after six weeks when confronted by stressful situations inside and outside university.
  2. Those who had physical manifestations of nervousness – voice shaking, blushing, slouching, reliance on notes – reported these totally gone or significantly reduced to an extent that they were no longer an issue.
  3. Clarity of thought was significantly improved.


With groups of two people, with short interventions conducted consistently over a period of 10 weeks we can achieve physiological, emotional and behavioural change in the context of presentation anxiety.

What does this mean in a corporate context?

Presentation anxiety manifests itself in many different ways –  forgetfulness, shaking and poor delivery are just some.  Not only does this reinforce the anxiety associated with presenting and reducing performance in general, but the individuals personal branding could suffer which potentially limits career advancement.

Sometimes this goes untreated or is addressed by attending a general presentation skills training course, which may or may not help.  Coaching may not be an option as staff may be too junior to qualify.

A solution is to conduct these mini coaching sessions in pairs over a period of 10 – 12 weeks.

We now have evidence that it is highly effective and given the time and number of coachees the ROI is high.

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