Incorporating HeartMath® into Health and Wellness

Jessica Cofer Blog

Since our inception, safety has been at the forefront of all that NATS does, not only in our trainings but in the way we perform in the field and live our personal lives, too. A big part of safety is health and wellness; we know that if we are healthy and well, both physically and mentally, our performance is better and accidents are less likely to occur.

Earlier this year we began to implement HeartMath® practices into the way NATS does business, led by CEO and President Ed Carpenter, and Health and Wellness Director Dr. Amanda Carpenter, DPT; both are HeartMath certified coaches. Not only is HeartMath® beneficial to our professional lives, but our personal lives, too.

According to Amanda, HeartMath, which is based on more than 26 years of research and recommended by thousands of health professionals, is about building resilience, or the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge and adversity. We encounter these factors in our places of work and our daily lives, too, especially in light of COVID-19.

Amanda continues that HeartMath is a system of science-based, coherence-building skills designed to help people bring their physical, mental and emotional systems into balanced alignment with their heart’s intuitive guidance.

“The heart’s intuitive guidance means the heart guides the brain, not the other way around,” Amanda explains.

HeartMath defines the domains of resilience as physical (endurance, strength), emotional (positive outlook, self-regulation), mental (attention span, ability to focus, incorporate multiple points of view) and spiritual (commitment to values, tolerance of others’ values and beliefs). Each of these domains also includes flexibility – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

“When we’re trying to build our health or resiliency, a lot of times we focus on the physical – our strength, flexibility and hydration,” says Amanda. “But emotional tolls drain our batteries, too. Anything that gets under our skin drains our battery. There are little things we can do day-to-day to recharge our batteries, aside from sleeping.”

During a HeartMath training for NATS instructors, Amanda reviewed a graph defining the different stages of stress, resilience and performance. For example, when we are faced with a challenge – whether good or bad – we tend to initially embrace the challenge and improve our performance. As time moves on, we go through a period of efficiency, leading to a hyper-reactive stage when we start to tire, not unlike an over-tired toddler. This is a leading indicator of breakdown, which can result in injury or illness and eventually, we may find ourselves in a state of emotional exhaustion no longer being able to function.

“It’s important to be aware of your own energy levels, and look at those we’re working with,” guides Amanda. “Where are they on the chart?”

To build resilience, Amanda suggests using a heart-focused breathing technique.

“The heart affects the brain centers in strategic thinking, reaction times and self-regulation,” she explains.

To practice heart-focused breathing:

  • Focus your attention in the area of the heart. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual. Try and inhale for five seconds, exhale five seconds, or whatever rhythm is comfortable for you.
  • Two minutes of heart-focused breathing is enough to reset the nervous system.
  • This technique is useful when you find yourself in a stressful situation, when you begin to get fatigued, or you’re having difficulty falling asleep.

HeartMath suggests we build and sustain resiliency by:

  • Prepare and set the tone for the day and be more composed before upcoming stressful events like talks or speeches, appointments, making important decisions, or attending meetings.
  • Shift and reset as soon as possible after a trigger from stressful interactions or communications, unexpected changes, or conflicts to minimize energy drains.

“Do not underestimate how much of your resilience is affected by regularly occurring stress reactions and accompanying energy drain,” the Institute advises.

  • Sustain resilience throughout the day through regular, proactive awareness and breathing, and by remembering to refresh your composure in between activities and events.

“With clear minds, we are positioned to make more effective decisions and plans of action,” explains Amanda.

Another way to maintain resiliency is to acknowledge stressful situations when they occur, and find simple solutions.

For example, if you’re running late for work you may feel anxious; a simple solution is to call a co-worker and let them know you’ll be late. Or, if you have an argument with a spouse, partner, family member, or friend, you may feel angry or helpless; waiting for it to blow over may be the best solution. If you can’t get enough sleep, it’s easy to feel frustrated and tired; if you can leave work early, that may be eliminate the stress of the situation.

On the flip side, energy-renewing situations and events can help lessen stressful situations that can lead to diminished resiliency. Being acknowledged for a job well done may lead to your feeling confident and a sense of accomplishment, while serving others can leave you feeling proud and fulfilled.

In normal living conditions, hanging out with friends likely leads to happiness and a sense of appreciation. Though we’re all practicing social distancing in the midst of COVID-19, we can still hang out with our friends virtually, through FaceTime, Skype and other online resources, and hopefully reap the benefits.

Dr. Amanda Carpenter is a HeartMath certified coach/mentor who is currently offering online coaching. To learn more about HeartMath or to sign up for a program, visit her website.