Biofeedback: Using Your Thoughts To Reduce Stress, Anxiety

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Biofeedback is the technique of using your thoughts to control body functions such as heart rate.

Electrical sensors placed on the body relay information (feedback) to help an individual concentrate on creating the physiological changes desired (e.g., reduced heart rate).

Training in biofeedback can help people manage muscle tension, stress, anxiety, and panic responses. People also use it to cope with problems such as chronic pain, asthma, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, and incontinence.

Benefits of Biofeedback

Managing symptoms with biofeedback is attractive for several reasons:

  1. It can reduce and sometimes eliminate the need for medications.
  2. It is a noninvasive technique.
  3. It is an effective treatment choice for people who do not tolerate medications, have found medications ineffective, and women who are pregnant and want to avoid taking medications.
  4. It gives people a sense of control over their situation.

Biofeedback is considered generally safe. However, diabetics who try biofeedback should do so under their doctor’s knowledge and supervision, and biofeedback is not recommended for individuals with severe mental health issues such as psychosis or major depression.

Four Types of Biofeedback

The most suitable biofeedback technique for you depends on your diagnosis and desired result.

  1. Galvanic skin response training uses sensors to monitor sweat gland activity and perspiration on the skin. This can be effective for managing anxiety.
  2. Electromyography (EMG) biofeedback relays information concerning muscle tension so people can learn to consciously relax.
  3. Heart rate variability biofeedback helps individuals control their pulse rate to manage or improve stress, anxiety, blood pressure, or lung function.
  4. Temperature (thermal) biofeedback measures skin temp by applying sensors to the fingers or feet. When stressed, our skin’s temperature often drops making low readings a prompt to use relaxation measures.

Biofeedback Sessions and Learning Devices

At a biofeedback session, the therapist will attach one or more electrical sensors to specific areas of the patient’s body. The sensors pick up information from the body and convert it into a picture, sound, or a flashing light. For instance, if an individual’s skin temperature triggers a beeping sound as the temperature rises—the higher the temp, the quicker the beeping—the person can use that signal to master consciously warming their hands by relaxing the nervous system pathways controlling the stress response (warm hand indicate less stress).

Most biofeedback sessions are 30 to 60 minutes long. The number of sessions required depends on how quickly the patient learns to control their responses. Not all insurance companies cover biofeedback so check with yours before starting therapy.

Another option is to purchase one of the many portable devices or computer programs that teach biofeedback. Sensors on these devices typically monitor changes in heart rate and translate that into sound, visual cues, or teach biofeedback using a game format.

Be A Wise Consumer

Shop for a biofeedback therapist carefully. Ask your doctor for recommendations and check the biofeedback therapist’s credentials and experience. Find out if they are knowledgeable about working with your particular issue. Before purchasing a biofeedback device or software program read plenty of reviews to make sure it lives up to its advertising.

You can find listings of certified biofeedback practitioners at these websites: the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (aapb.org), or the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (bcia.org).

Sources: Mayo Clinic; Dr Weil

 
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