Published:  2007-12

Cardiac Effects of Momentary Assessed Worry Episodes and Stressful Events

Authors:  Suzanne Pieper, Jos F. Brosschot, Rien van der Leeden, Julian F. Thayer


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To hypothesize that increased heart rate (HR) and decreased heart rate variability (HRV) occurs not only during stressful events but also during episodes in which stress is cognitively represented, but not necessarily present, i.e., during worry.
Ambulatory HR and HRV of 73 female and male teachers were recorded for 4 days, during which they reported, on an hourly basis using computerized diaries, the number and characteristics of worry episodes and stressful events. Multilevel regression models were used, controlling for biobehavioral variables.
Compared with neutral periods, worry episodes and stressful events had independent effects on HR (2.00 beats/min and 2.75 beats/min, respectively) and HRV (−1.07ms and −1.05, respectively). Neither psychological traits nor biobehavioral variables influenced these results. Effects were most pronounced for work-related worry on HR (9.16 beats/min) and HRV (−1.19 ms), and for worry about anticipated future stress on HR (4.79 beats/min).
Worry in daily life might have substantial cardiac effects in addition to the effects of stressful events, especially in the form of work-related and anticipatory stress, the latter being a type of stress that has been largely neglected in stress research.
CV = cardiovascular;
HR = heart rate;
HRV = heart rate variability;
BP = blood pressure;
BMI = body mass index;
PSWQ = Penn State Worry Questionnaire;
WDQ = Worry Domain Questionnaire;
BDI = Beck Depression Inventory;
STAI = Spielberger Trait Anxiety;
CM = Cook-Medley hostility scale;
IHAT = Interpersonal Hostility Assessment Technique.