What do your heart rate, skin temperature and blood pressure all have in common? They are all automatic functions controlled by the nervous system. In other words, they are bodily processes that don’t require conscious thought. Though we never think about them, there is a type of therapy that can allow us to exercise more control over these functions ‒ biofeedback.
An Electric Avenue
In short, biofeedback therapy relies on electrodes, or electrical sensors, to gather information about the body’s involuntary processes. These sensors are attached to a patient’s skin, and transmit the data they collect to a monitor. As far as biofeedback is concerned, electrodes may be used to collected the following types of information:
- Heart rate
- Breathing rate
- Sweating levels/sweat gland activity
- Blood pressure
- Muscle activity
- Body temperature
Such data, or feedback. is presented is the form of either sounds, light flashes or images.
Mind Over Matter
Stress has a noticeable impact on several key bodily functions. For example, stressful situations can cause both muscle tightening and blood pressure spikes. In addition, people under stress also tend to breathe at a faster pace and break out into a noticeable sweat. Such changes are captured and displayed on monitors during biofeedback therapy.
Once these problems have been identified, the therapist will then suggest strategies that may allow patients to alter their emotions, behaviors or thought patterns. If successful, these suggestions enable those burdened by stress to overcome their mental/physical obstacles. A person struggling with pain, for example, could be taught a technique designed to relax their muscles. Alternatively, a patient plagued by recurring headaches may benefit from learning how to mentally suppress certain brainwaves.
Other techniques commonly used by biofeedback therapists include mindfulness meditation and guided imagery. The former involves the jettisoning of negative emotions and a deep focus on thoughts that flow through the mind. In contrast, the latter approach requires patients to focus on specific images.
Uses and Success Rate
Biofeedback therapy is used to address a number of conditions, many of which are shown below:
- Chronic Pain
- Irritable Bowel Symptoms
- Motion Sickness
- Urinary Incontinence