Researchers have discovered that, contrary to what you might think, a less variable heartbeat might be associated with a higher susceptibility to stress.

The team recorded heart rate variability in 76 student participants while they were relaxing and while they were thinking about things they tend to worry about most. They also tracked participants’ moods at a time of low stress early in the semester and at a time of high stress right before exams.

The researchers found that those who exhibited a less variable heartbeat when they started worrying were more likely to be highly stressed later on, when faced with finals. Having an objective tool to diagnose stress susceptibility could help practitioners stop stress before it starts.

Original research paper published in the journal Stress in September, 2014.

Names and affiliations of selected authors

Jean-Philippe Gouin, Canada Research Chair in Chronic Stress and Health, Concordia University