The term “biofeedback” may bring to mind the feel-good generation of the 1960s and the experimental attitude of the time. Some people may not realize that biofeedback actually does have some useful applications.
Biofeedback got its start in the 1960s when researchers were studying how much control people could exert over their involuntary bodily functions such as blood pressure and heart rate. The hope was that scientists would eventually figure out ways for people to use their minds to control virtually every aspect of physical function using their brainwaves. This has proven impossible, but certain physiological responses have been shown to respond to mental control. Biofeedback uses sensitive instruments to read a subject’s reactions to factors such as stress, and then they seek to modify these responses by teaching the person to change their thinking.
Biofeedback is especially useful in helping people learn to deal with stress in a healthy way, and it therefore also helps to relieve a variety of stress-related illnesses. Some of these include high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and digestive problems. The patient and biofeedback specialist work together to retrain the patient to control their responses. The biofeedback machines let the specialist know how well the patient is able to exert control, and then this information is used to modify the exercises he or she teaches the patient. A general philosophy behind biofeedback is that a person’s reaction to stress has a profound physiological effect and can cause all kinds of disease and discomfort.
How Biofeedback Works
Biofeedback is the use of electronic devices for the monitoring of unconscious physical activity so that an individual can see how their body functions and what patterns have developed in their systems’ response to different stimuli. The idea is that understanding these habitual patterns will allow the person to then take steps to change these patterns to reduce symptoms associated with different diseases and disorders. How does biofeedback do this?
Your body develops habitual reactions to stress that can be detrimental to your health and overall well-being. For example, a person may carry a great amount of tension in their neck and shoulders without even realizing it. When under a lot of stress, they may walk with their shoulders held up almost by their ears, completely unaware that they’re so tense. One biofeedback device is able to read the levels of tension held within a muscle, and this device can tell an individual if they are holding tension anywhere and, then, as they attempt to perform exercises to decrease the tension, this device can let them know how well the exercises are working.
Heart rate and respiration patterns are other indicators of stress and anxiety, and biofeedback taps into these processes as well to determine habitual stress responses and how to modify them. Again, the process of biofeedback is relatively simple. First, an individual uses certain biofeedback devices to determine their respiratory and cardiovascular habits in response to stress, and then they perform exercises prescribed by an expert in biofeedback while using the machines to help determine effectiveness.
Changing physiological habits that have developed over long periods of time can be unnerving at first. The body and mind are used to one way of doing things, and, even if this habit is harmful, it can be difficult to change. Once the process begins, though, the change usually shows itself to be rewarding in reduced stress, anxiety, and sleep difficulty. Most people feel a sense of empowerment as they take control over their stress and tension while having positive feedback as the exercises take effect. In essence, they can see that what they are doing is working, and this motivates them on to new changes for better health.