Biofeedback therapy is a technique that helps you learn to change your physical response to stress.
We all experience stress at one point or another. Stress is our natural body’s reaction to a stressor. When we’re stressed, our bodies can respond emotionally and physically.
Biofeedback therapy can help you learn to manage your body’s response to stress. This noninvasive treatment may be able to reduce the effects of stress and help you relax.
Although biofeedback isn’t very well known, it can be used to help a range of conditions such as asthma, anxiety, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
There are several types of biofeedback therapies available. A mental health professional will guide you to the type of therapy best for you and your unique set of symptoms.
Biofeedback therapy is a noninvasive treatment that can help you control how your body responds to stressful stimuli. This therapy technique aims to help reduce the impact stress can have on your body and mental health.
Over time, stress can take a toll on your physical and mental health. Biofeedback therapy works to minimize these effects.
While it was once thought that our body’s response to stress was involuntary, biofeedback therapy suggests that we can learn to manage how our body responds to stressful stimuli.
Electrical sensors are used in biofeedback therapy to measure critical responses in your body such as temperature, heart rate, or blood pressure.
This helps you to see how your body responds to stressful situations and lets you know when you need to start using relaxation techniques to manipulate your response — be it your breathing, heart rate, or muscle tension.
Biofeedback therapy essentially helps you learn to manage your body’s response to stress, allowing you to relax.
Because of the range of bodily responses to stress, there are different ways to monitor biofeedback. The best type for you will depend on your specific response to stress and what your goals are.
The types of feedback therapy available include:
- electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback: This technique, aka neurofeedback, monitors your brain waves to evaluate how your states of calm, sleep, and wakefulness are affected by stressful situations.
- electromyogram (EMG) biofeedback: Electromyogram measures muscle tension, a bodily response that tends to increase with stress.
- galvanic skin response training: In this type of biofeedback therapy, sensors are used to measure how much a subject sweats. This is important to stress management, as perspiration is closely associated with stress conditions such as anxiety and phobias.
- temperature biofeedback: Body temperature tends to decrease during stress and temperature biofeedback monitors this through sensors. If your temperature does drop during a biofeedback therapy session, it may indicate that it’s time to begin relaxation techniques.
- heart rate variability biofeedback: This biofeedback technique measures your heart rate. A heightened heart rate is a key indicator or stress.
- respiratory biofeedback: Our breathing patterns tend to change when we experience stress stimuli, often turning into small, shallow breaths. Respiratory biofeedback monitors your breathing patterns through a band around your abdomen and chest and lets the person monitoring the test know when your body is experiencing stress.
Biofeedback devices have typically been used in a clinical setting, but there are also an increasing number of at-home devices.
There are two types of at-home devices:
- sensor devices that are plugged into computers
- wearable devices
Biofeedback therapy helps you learn how to manage your body’s automatic response to stress and feel more relaxed. This means that conditions that are exacerbated or caused by stress may benefit from biofeedback therapy.
But other conditions might also see an improvement from this therapy. These conditions include:
With stress playing a huge role in anxiety, biofeedback therapy can help you control some of the symptoms of anxiety such as increased heart rate, sweating, and body temperature.
EEG, or neurofeedback, may also help manage symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
A 2014 review found that neurofeedback may help improve cognitive (e.g., memory, thinking, and concentration) and behavioral symptoms of ADHD. But more research is needed.
Research also suggests that asthma may benefit from biofeedback therapy.
These benefits don’t show that biofeedback therapy can be considered an alternative to asthma medication. But this study does suggest that biofeedback may provide positive complementary effects.
Biofeedback therapy may be able to help you reduce your pain levels by teaching you to relax your muscles.
EMG biofeedback therapy, in particular, can help improve conditions such as neck pain. A 2021 review found that biofeedback therapy appears to have a small to moderate effect on reducing neck pain disability. But more research is needed.
There’s a strong correlation between headaches and stress.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is closely associated with increased stress levels and the relaxation techniques of biofeedback therapy may help you lower your blood pressure during times of stress.
Fibromyalgia is a painful musculoskeletal condition that often results in stiffness and pain in your muscles and joints.
By helping you relax the muscles affected by fibromyalgia, EMG biofeedback therapy may improve the effects of this condition.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a bowel condition that typically results in abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea or constipation.
Stress is thought to be a contributing factor to IBS flares. A
Urinary incontinence is often the result of weak pelvic floor muscles.
Biofeedback therapy is typically administered by a mental health professional in a medical center, hospital, or physical therapy clinic.
A single session will take around 30 to 60 minutes. Sensors will be applied to your body to measure a specific physiological response (e.g., muscle tension). Monitors will then display your physiological response back to you.
Once you’ve been set up in your session, you’ll be guided through how to change your physical response by practicing relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises.
The monitor allows you to view your progress throughout the session. You may be able to see results within the first few minutes of a session.
Eventually, you may reach a point in your therapy when you can practice it on your own, without a therapist or monitor.
A good place to start when looking for a biofeedback therapist is to ask a healthcare or mental health professional for a referral.
Once you find someone, consider asking about their experience and credentials and check this against the regulations in your state.
You may also want to check to see whether biofeedback therapy is covered under your health insurance policy.
Currently, there are no known risks to biofeedback therapy. But it’s still important to ask a doctor or therapist whether biofeedback therapy is a good fit for you.
Biofeedback therapy has demonstrated an ability to help people control their physical response to stressful stimuli.
It also may help better manage the symptoms of a range of conditions such as asthma, anxiety, and pain.
If you’re considering biofeedback therapy but you’re unsure where to look for a therapist, you can check out Psych Central’s hub on finding mental health and support.