Biofeedback is a form of self-regulation where the aim is to enhance and bring awareness to the way in which the mind/thoughts may trigger or influence physiological processes within the body.
The body constantly adjusts to the environment by “speeding up” or “slowing down” to maintain balance and homeostasis and attend to the demands of the environment. When the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) gets stuck, speeds up and does not slow down when appropriate, detrimental health effects can result.
The Autonomic Nervous System consists of two main branches:
1. Sympathetic Nervous
The SNS controls our “fight / flight / freeze” response and increases our heart rate, breathing, and blood flow to muscles when required. The role of the SNS is to quickly activate the body’s endocrine system to attend to short-term stressors. However, the SNS ignores the long-term health consequences of continued nervous system overactivation on the body.
2. Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)
PNS is our “rest and digest” or recovery response and decreases our heart rate when needed.
This assists with physical reparation in the body and conserves energy within physiological systems for optimal functioning.
Biofeedback is the practice of making these physiological processes measurable and visible to the client. The client gains insight into how the body adjusts and responds to internal physiological processes and its stress response to daily events.
Biofeedback is an effective training modality for developing self-awareness thereby promoting mindfulness of the moment-to-moment responses to life’s challenges (stress). Biofeedback is primarily used to treat high blood pressure and to lower anxiety responses. It is also used for tension headaches, migraine headaches, chronic pain, and urinary incontinence. Further utilization includes Peak Performance Training with top athletes, artists, and executives.
Electrodes or sensors placed on the body measure physiological responses, for example, the tension in particular muscle groups, blood pressure, or hand temperature. These real-time measurements are displayed on a monitor for the client to observe, learn from and consciously alter.
With assistance from a biofeedback therapist, the client learns techniques to regulate their breathing, heart rate, or blood pressure. At first, the monitor is used to track progress. Eventually, the client will be able to achieve success without a monitor or electrodes and generalize this improvement to daily life.
Description of Modalities
1. Skin Temperature
During the fight/flight response that gets triggered during high stress levels, the peripheral nervous system will divert blood away from one’s extremities to more important organs like the brain, lungs, and heart for survival and to manage acute stress optimally. This leads to cold and clammy hands.
Warm peripheral skin temperature is an indication of better homeostasis in the body. Migraine and chronic headache sufferers, as well as people suffering from hypertension and Raynaud’s Disease, benefit from this training.
2. Electrodermal Activity – Galvanic skin response
This involves the measurement of conductance of moisture/sweat on the skin surface of the hand. It is an accurate measure of eccrine sweat gland activity that is triggered when one becomes anxious or aroused. The speed of small electrical currents is measured. (This forms a common part of
“lie-detector" tests). Biofeedback practitioners teach clients to lower the skin conductance response to ameliorate depression, sleep disorders, anger, and overall stress and facilitate mind-body awareness.
3. Surface Electromyography (SEMG) - Muscle tension or neuromuscular re-education
The monitoring of bio-electrical activity produced by the muscle when it contracts is a good indicator of muscle tension in various muscle groups in the body. These contractions are intended to last only a moment, with the muscle then returning to baseline “ready position” immediately after.
However, when the fight/flight or freeze response is triggered, incorrect muscle firing patterns can develop, for example, SMA (sensory-motor amnesia - muscles forget to relax). During and after periods of stress, body tension has shown how posture can be negatively affected and how pain patterns can emerge. Contracted muscles that are responding to high neural firing rates for extended periods show fatigue, cramping and pain patterns. EMG biofeedback training is used for symptom reduction in cases of tension headaches, bruxism, TMJ complaints, hypertension, stress, chronic pain, repetitive strain injuries, and Carpal Tunnel syndrome.
4. Heart Rate Variability
HRV measures and trains coherence or synchrony between breathing and heartbeat. Higher HRV resonance has been shown to result in improvement in the ability to mediate life’s stressors. HRV is efficacious in the reduction of stress, depression, PTSD, sleep disorders, hypertension and improves mind-body awareness. Read More Here >
Stress Profile and Stress reduction training
A combination of all of the above sensors or measurements is used to compile a measured outcome of a client’s physiological response to simulated stress (Stress profile).
This provides the clinician with a clear path for training with their client. The aim is to establish a more regulated neuro-physiological response pattern of the nervous system - which results in a feeling of internal balance.