Have you ever heard of the term biofeedback, or read it somewhere and wondered what it actually was? Biofeedback is a technique that involves using visual or auditory feedback to gain control over our involuntary bodily functions, or functions we don’t even think about consciously on a daily basis. This may include gaining voluntary control over such things as heart rate, muscle tension, blood flow, pain perception and blood pressure.
The ultimate goal is to help you improve your well-being and quality of life.
During a biofeedback session, electrodes are attached to your skin, and therefore they are non-invasive. Finger sensors can also be used. These electrodes/sensors send signals to a monitor, which displays a sound, flash of light, or image that represents your heart and breathing rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, sweating, or muscle activity.
When you’re under stress, these functions naturally change. Your heart rate speeds up, your muscles tighten, your blood pressure rises, you start to sweat, and your breathing quickens. You can see these stress responses as they happen in real time on the monitor, and then get immediate feedback as you try to stop them.
Biofeedback sessions are typically done in a therapist’s office, but there are computer programs that connect the biofeedback sensor to your own computer.
According to the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, “biofeedback is a process that enables an individual to learn how to change physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and performance. Precise instruments measure physiological activity such as brainwaves, heart function, breathing, muscle activity, and skin temperature. These instruments rapidly and accurately “feed back” information to the user. The presentation of this information — often in conjunction with changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior — supports desired physiological changes. Over time, these changes can endure without continued use of an instrument.”
Biofeedback can be used for a range of applications, including:
- Treating tension headaches, migraines, and other types of pain, chronic or otherwise
- Controlling high and low blood pressure
- Alleviating digestive and gastrointestinal disorders like IBS, etc.
- Helping patients control physical reactions to stress or anxiety (most common)
- Aiding in relaxation and stress management
- Aiding in allergy control and reduction of asthma symptoms
- EEG feedback has also been shown to be effective in treating and managing symptoms of certain brain injuries, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
The idea behind biofeedback is that, by harnessing the power of your mind and becoming aware of what’s going on inside your body, you can gain more control over your health. Researchers aren’t exactly sure how or why biofeedback works. They do know that biofeedback promotes relaxation, which can help relieve a number of conditions that are related to stress.
In psychology, therapists might use biofeedback to help patients control their response to stress. Chronic stress can have a wide range of negative health effects including decreased immunity, heart disease, depression, digestive problems and sleep disorders. By learning how to manage the stress response using biofeedback, patients are able to decrease the harmful physical and psychological effects of stress.
You may wonder why people choose to try this technique, perhaps over others. Biofeedback may appeal in situations where other treatments have not been effective, or where people are unable to take certain medications for a variety of reasons. Biofeedback also teaches people how to control their own responses in stressful situations, which can help people feel more in control of themselves, and their life, and in turn feel less stressed out.
So how exactly does biofeedback work? By learning how to recognize the physical signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety, such as increased heart rate, body temperature, and muscle tension, people are able to learn exactly how to relax. Scientists believe that it is often the stress response, the body’s tendency to go into a state of “fight-or-flight” in order to deal with potential threats that often exacerbates certain conditions. By learning how to control physiological responses to stress, biofeedback patients are able to learn how to relax their minds and bodies and better cope with the symptoms of stress.
Biofeedback might be another option to consider when you seemed to have exhausted all other methods to managing your stress. You might find that this is the solution you needed all along and/or that it serves as a compliment to existing strategies you employ when your stress levels are through the roof.