Measuring psychosocial stress with heart rate variability-based methods in different health and age groups

Author: Santtu Seipäjärvi1, Anniina Tuomola2, Joona Juurakko2, Mirva Rottensteiner3, Antti-Pekka E Rissanen4, Jari Kurkela2, Urho Kujala5, Jari Laukkanen4, Jan Wikgren2
1 Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Kärki, Mattilanniemi, Jyvaskyla, 40100, FINLAND.
2 Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Kärki, Mattilanniemi, Jyvaskyla, Keski-Suomi, 40100, FINLAND.
3 Central Finland Health Care District, Keskussairaalantie 19, Jyvaskyla, Central Finland, 40620, FINLAND.
4 Central Finland Health Care District, Keskussairaalantie, Jyvaskyla, Central Finland, 40620, FINLAND.
5 University of Jyväskylä Faculty of Sports and Health Sciences, Rautpohjankatu 8, Jyvaskyla, Keski-Suomi, 40700, FINLAND.
Conference/Journal: Physiol Meas
Date published: 2022 Apr 28
Other: Special Notes: doi: 10.1088/1361-6579/ac6b7c. , Word Count: 282

Autonomic nervous system function and thereby bodily stress and recovery reactions may be assessed by wearable devices measuring heart rate (HR) and its variability (HRV). So far, the validity of HRV-based stress assessments has been mainly studied in healthy populations. In this study, we determined how psychosocial stress affects physiological and psychological stress responses in both young (18-30 yrs) and middle-aged (45-64 yrs) healthy individuals as well as in patients with arterial hypertension and/or either prior evidence of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. We also studied how an HRV-based stress index (Relax-Stress Intensity, RSI) relates to perceived stress (PS) and cortisol (CRT) responses during psychosocial stress.

A total of 197 participants were divided into three groups: 1) healthy young (HY, N=63), 2) healthy middle-aged (HM, N=61) and 3) patients with cardiometabolic risk factors (Pts, N=73, 32-65 yrs). The participants underwent a group version of Trier Social Stress Test (TSST-G). HR, HRV (quantified as root mean square of successive differences of R-R intervals, RMSSD), RSI, PS, and salivary CRT were measured regularly during TSST-G and a subsequent recovery period.

Main results:
All groups showed significant stress reactions during TSST-G as indicated by significant responses of HR, RMSSD, RSI, PS, and salivary CRT. Between-group differences were also observed in all measures. Correlation and regression analyses implied RSI being the strongest predictor of CRT response, while HR was more closely associated with PS.

The HRV-based stress index mirrors responses of CRT, which is an independent marker for physiological stress, around TSST-G. Thus, the HRV-based stress index may be used to quantify physiological responses to psychosocial stress across various health and age groups.

Keywords: Cortisol; Heart rate variability; Perceived stress; Stress; Wellbeing.

PMID: 35483348 DOI: 10.1088/1361-6579/ac6b7c