Physical or mental imbalance caused by harmful stimuli can induce stress to maintain homeostasis. During chronic stress, the sympathetic nervous system is hyperactivated, causing physical, psychological, and behavioral abnormalities. At present, there is no accepted standard for stress evaluation. This review aimed to survey studies providing a rationale for selecting heart rate variability (HRV) as a psychological stress indicator.
Term searches in the Web of Science ®, National Library of Medicine (PubMed), and Google Scholar databases yielded 37 publications meeting our criteria. The inclusion criteria were involvement of human participants, HRV as an objective psychological stress measure, and measured HRV reactivity.
In most studies, HRV variables changed in response to stress induced by various methods. The most frequently reported factor associated with variation in HRV variables was low parasympathetic activity, which is characterized by a decrease in the high-frequency band and an increase in the low-frequency band. Neuroimaging studies suggested that HRV may be linked to cortical regions (e.g., the ventromedial prefrontal cortex) that are involved in stressful situation appraisal.