We often consider stress to be a mental issue, however it also manifests within our physicality and can be harboured within the body in various ways including decreased immunity, heart disease, depression, digestive problems, and sleep disorders. In order to relieve stress we need to physically do something about it. There is a lot to be said for ‘mind over matter’ but we cannot always simply think it away – enter biofeedback!
What is biofeedback I hear you cry? It is basically a technique (more of a training than a treatment), which involves both body and mind, to take control of our blood flow, blood pressure and heart rate. Rather than allowing these bodily functions to control the person, the person takes control of their system and uses it for their own benefit.
Biofeedback can help to control fear, stress and anxiety by connecting the heart, breath and mind as well as alleviate high blood pressure, headaches, muscle tension and pain. It has also been used to help with ADHD, brain injuries, depression, digestive disorders, low blood pressure, mental health conditions, migraines and PTSD.
There are various types of biofeedback but the technique generally involves auditory or visual feedback, from an instrument, in order to gauge the body’s performance or activity under certain situations. Using this information we can work towards making subtle changes which can have positive health effects.
The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback defines it as “a process that allows people to alter their physiological activity in order to improve health or performance”.
Using the techniques we can improve physical, emotional, and mental health or perhaps better manage symptoms of a specific condition. Once practised regularly over time the techniques can become automatic and we therefore no longer need the instruments required at the beginning.
Some examples of biofeedback techniques:
Galvanic skin response
Or skin conductance, measures perspiration levels on the skin’s surface in order to gauge emotional reactions to situations.
Requires sensor bands to be worn around the torso which monitor our breathing rate. Learning to control the breath can greatly influence the way our body responds to stress.
Can be measured using a device providing valuable information on how the body reacts. To alleviate high blood pressure techniques can be applied using relaxation methods.
Can indicate the level of blood flow to the skin. When under duress we often experience a drop in our body temperature, using a specific device to create awareness as to when our temperature is dropping we can detect when we are feeling the pressure and apply stress management techniques.
Uses an EEG device to measure our brain activity and provides a useful treatment for people suffering with ADHD, pain, addiction, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.
Is measured using sensors connecting to an EMG device which monitors the electrical activity which causes muscle contractions.
One of the techniques which I found really interesting, as far as controlling stress is concerned, is heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback.
Heart rate variability
Is the time between each heartbeat, and the measurement in milliseconds of how this varies. When considered in connection with stress and how we manage it we can see how quickly our body reacts to it and recovers. If we display a low variation in this measurement; i.e. we don’t have much variation of time in between heartbeats, then this can be linked to stress-related illnesses such as depression, PTSD, anxiety. Whereas a high variation can be linked to those with high tolerance levels, good health, and ability to adapt. So, the bigger variation we have, the better.
Can help someone to optimise the oscillations between their heartbeats by using the breath; it is not a relaxation technique rather a management and control technique. The body requires balance to be at its best, to reach an equilibrium where everything is lined up correctly supporting every part of us is what we are looking to achieve; a.k.a. homeostasis. When we learn to manage and control our heart rate and the rhythm of it, we can reduce stress and alleviate the mind to put us on the right path towards this. Breathing in and releasing the breath for longer than we inhaled will increase the variation of the heart beat, once we learn control, we can train it for our benefit . There are apps which monitor your heart rate variation to help with the training process.
Heart rate variation biofeedback
Is a process by which we systematically synchronise our hearts and minds in order to accurately and actively work through stressful moments to increase our recovery time as well as reduce our reactivity to stressors. It teaches us how to manage our responses in a stressful situation or environment and empowers us to take control over our body and mind.
Ways to practice HRV
Include using a breath pacer and set it to a particular level whereby the inhalation/exhalation ratio is 40:60. Execute this breathing for ten minutes, twice per day in an allocated quiet zone. We can also use different breathing techniques such as breathing from the belly – this practice can help to calm the body and the mind as we focus on the breath and reduce our stress levels. We can even go to the classic ‘breathe in the good, breathe out the bad’ concept by inhaling and recognising our stress, then exhaling it out of us decelerating our heart rate in the process. Focus on positive memories, emotions and situations, reconnect to joyous feelings and use this when carrying out your breathing exercises to help reduce anxiety. Creating a resilience to stress can be achieved by regulating ourselves in these ways giving us the power to quickly restore the heart rate to its regular rhythm during a stressful moment.
Biofeedback can help us to recognise physical symptoms of stress and learn to control our bodily responses in order to reduce and recover effectively from our negative reaction to it. It is a technique which incorporates mindfulness, self-awareness, and self-control.
Online diploma courses in Stress Management
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we have been providing a holistic education for the past 23 years. Our courses have no expiry date and no deadline to finish them – the only deadline is the one you create for yourself – even our study methods are stress-free!
Our Stress Management course has been prepared to cover a vast scale of “stress related problems” and their treatments and provides an investigation into the root causes of these problems in a methodical, easy to understand way.