Upsets Are Smaller Than They Appear

I had a good opportunity to unpack an Upset in real time. I was with another person and they did something that caught me off guard in a negative way. I was wearing my Polar H7 heart rate belt and was measuring my heart rate variability using Heart Rate Variability Logger app by Marco Altini. Here is a graph showing 30 second snapshots of my rMSSD, a measure of the variability of my heart rate.


I know from previous readings that a reading above 48 of my rMSSD is a reading that indicates low stress, an rMSSD below 48 indicates stress. The event that caught me off guard happened at the “13” time mark on the chart. As it unfolded I chose not to react to the situation and take stock. When it happened my rMSSD was at 51, a comfortable stress free reading. As I sat quietly and processed the event you can see my rMSSD drop to 47, not too bad, then pop back up to 58 which is quite relaxed. When I decided on some level to show I was displeased, shown in the chart at time hack “22,” my rMSSD dropped to 27. This is a reading comparable to being in the dentist chair or firing a shotgun at a range.

So my decision to react and show my displeasure was the stress inducing action, not the original event itself. My decision to be visibly confrontational created the deep negative rMSSD reaction. I think this event has measured my fight/flight response. The response occurred a full four minutes after the original event. So I chose to enter that state.

Once I walked away I maintained my state of Upset. On being clear of the situation you can see the opening reading is still in a somewhat stressful state, but 30 seconds after that I was back in a state of no stress.


After I was clear I was still mentally considering my reaction and the event, but I was not physiologically in a confrontational state as measured by my heart rate variability.

So a few insights come from this event. First, the actual event was not the physiological trigger. My interpretation, arrived at a full four minutes after the fact was the trigger. Once into it, the time I was in fight/flight was quite short. Though I felt I was still in an Upset state I had emerged from it a full minute or two earlier.

Interpretation is a choice, Upset results from interpretation. Conflict creates fight/flight, removing oneself from conflict seems to reduce fight/flight reaction. Regardless of the mental rehearsals before and after, an Upset unfolding in real time is quite a bit smaller than it appears when you look to the data.

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