Biofeedback is the process of learning self-regulation of aspects of our bodily functions that are normally controlled by the nervous system. These functions include heart rate, skin temperature, blood pressure, etc.
While we don’t consciously control these body functions, with the help of electric monitoring of these normally automatic bodily functions, one can be trained to achieve conscious control of that function.
During a biofeedback session, electrodes are attached to your skin, along with finger sensors, which send signals to a monitor.
The monitor will then display anything from a flash of light or a visual representation of your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, etc.
The goal in these sessions isn’t to teach deep relaxation. The goal is to gain a conscious control over these bodily functions in order to teach a person to be calm in a stressful situation. Under stress, these functions change. Muscles tighten, blood pressure sky rockets, breathing and heart rate quickens. These physical reactions to stress can be seen on the monitor and it will allow you to learn what techniques to practice to combat these reactions and eventually have control over them in the future.
It is important to note that not all stress is bad stress. If someone were to find themselves in a real life-or-death situation this stress would initiate the fight-or-flight response in their body; this would release a massive amount of adrenaline to that person’s brain and subsequently increases blood flow to your main muscle groups enabling you to run away from danger if need be. This is a normal and necessary reaction to stress.
The problem occurs when your fight-or-flight response is overactive. This is where anxiety comes from when your body perceives any type of stress as life-threatening. With biofeedback, you can learn to control these naturally occurring reactions making it one of the safest methods of combating anxiety. However, biofeedback is not only used to combat stress – it also is a useful tool to help actual medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), irregular heartbeat, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), headaches, migraines, epilepsy, pain, and incontinence.
There are five different types of biofeedback, each used to monitor different body functions. Heart rate variability (HRA) measures heart rate. Electrodermal activity (EDA) measures sweating. Electroencephalography (EEG) is used for monitoring brainwaves, electromyogram (EMG) measures muscle activity and tension. Thermal measures the temperature of your skin.
The technology behind biofeedback literally gives a person the power to control automatic reactions. It is peeking into our subconscious and figuring out what makes someone tick. Biofeedback has the power to change the world for the better. It could advance and knowledge and ultimately treatment of psychological disorders. It has the potential to cure addiction. It gives you the power to change what many have considered being unfixable.
Potentially the most interesting aspect behind biofeedback is the unanswered question of why it works. Professionals know that it works, but don’t know why. The human brain is an insanely powerful and curious thing. It can make us feel pain when there is no reason for it. It can make you feel sick when you are perfectly healthy. The truth is the brain is still somewhat of a mystery. Just by learning how to control automatic reactions you can cure a headache or help ease the pain. That by itself is amazing and proof enough that our knowledge of the human brain and the subconscious mind is far less than we thought.