Biofeedback is a technique a doctor or therapist uses to manage stress, illness, pain, and other maladies. In biofeedback therapy, a therapist monitors clients' vitals while they respond to bodily feedback using therapeutic coping mechanisms. Biofeedback often takes place in a medical setting. It can involve the use of devices that monitor heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, temperature, brain waves, and other sources of information about the body.
Biofeedback can treat stress symptoms, headaches, migraines, urinary incontinence, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, and mental health conditions. Biofeedback therapy can also be used to improve decision-making, induce relaxation, and cause the body to raise or lower temperature or heart rate at will, among many other potential applications.
Who Developed Biofeedback?
Biofeedback elements have been used for centuries in treating the body and mind, including practices like meditation and yoga. Modern usage and application of biofeedback began in the late 19th century when scientists began developing theories concerning bodily homeostasis and managing minute bodily functions, like muscle movements, breathing, and heart rate.
In the 1960s, interest in the potential uses of biofeedback increased, with the Biofeedback Research Society formed in 1969. Biofeedback was influenced by several different areas of study in science and medicine, including physics, behavioral psychology, and human biology. It also gained popularity as many people came to an increasing understanding of the connection between the body and the mind.
Throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries, research on the potential applications of biofeedback has continued, incorporating new technologies and scientific techniques to better study the relationship between body and mind. Technologies such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) and other measuring techniques can allow scientists and medical professionals to gather more detailed information about the body. They also allow patients to interpret the signals these machines receive from the body in real-time.
How Biofeedback Works
How Biofeedback Is Used To Treat Stress
Biofeedback therapy is often used to treat those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In particular, biofeedback may increase heart rate variability, which is associated with enhanced attention and short-term memory.
In the form of neurofeedback therapy, biofeedback may also help clients manage emotional responses and practice engaging in calm, relaxed states. Minor adjustments to physical symptoms of stress may result in a meaningful reduction of emotional symptoms. Biofeedback has been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD, in some cases significantly, and it can complement a variety of other treatment options.
Biofeedback has also been shown to be effective in reducing stress levels in soldiers exposed to combat. The techniques in this type of therapy may increase mental and psychological resilience, allowing soldiers to learn how to respond better to stressful situations and make decisions under pressure. In one study, soldiers trained in stress-reduction biofeedback methods were better able to perform first aid during a simulated ambush, reflecting how biofeedback allowed them to control their emotional and physical responses to stress.
This training may also reduce the mental and psychological load of combat, resulting in a reduced rate of PTSD and other mental health conditions among those serving in the armed forces. In this way, biofeedback can be part of a holistic approach that emphasizes healthy behavior and coping mechanisms in various areas, including physical, mental, and emotional health.
Other Applications Of Biofeedback
In addition to monitoring and reducing stress and PTSD, biofeedback has various applications, including for incontinence, chronic pain, headaches and migraines, and decision-making.
Biofeedback can be used to help treat incontinence in children, individuals who are pregnant or have recently given birth, and other people who experience bladder control and similar concerns. The treatment can be used to help train and strengthen pelvic muscles and help people more readily recognize symptoms of needing to urinate.
Biofeedback can reduce symptoms of chronic pain, including the intensity of pain and associated psychological concerns, such as stress and depression. It may be particularly effective for back pain.
Headaches And Migraines
Biofeedback training may be effective in reducing headaches and migraines. This type of therapy can teach clients how to manage their emotions during a migraine, reduce stress, and monitor their physical symptoms.
Participants in biofeedback studies can learn how to manage their emotions and achieve mental and emotional calm through a deeper understanding of related physical symptoms. Biofeedback also has many applications in personal life, helping individuals recognize and manage their emotions and actions.
Biofeedback can be used to help clients manage their mental health. Using biofeedback, individuals can learn to reduce symptoms of mental illnesses such as stress, anxiety, and PTSD.
Using Biofeedback To Manage Stress At Home
Biofeedback is most often used in a medical setting, often in a hospital or doctor's office, and with the supervision and instruction of a medical professional. When used in these settings, biofeedback involves sensory equipment that allows doctors and patients to monitor the body's feedback in real-time. This form of biofeedback can often be effective for noticing otherwise imperceptible bodily elements, such as temperature, muscle tension, and brain activity.
Even if you don't have these devices, you can still engage in a simplified form of biofeedback by listening to your body's signals and responding accordingly. Simple methods of biofeedback can include the following:
- Focusing on your breathing
- Muscle tension and relaxation
- Heart rate tracking during coping skills for anxiety and stress
- Monitoring changes in mood and how they connect with body sensations
- Identifying where in your body you feel emotions or pain
While this information may not be as precisely detailed as the information you might get from a medical professional, it may still benefit you to better understand your body and the many connections between body and mind.
Benefits Of Biofeedback
Biofeedback has been shown to help treat or reduce the symptoms of many illnesses. In addition, it can be noninvasive and may have few requirements. Biofeedback may also allow people to reduce their dependence on medication and be a viable alternative when people are temporarily unable to take medication, such as during pregnancy.
Tracking bodily sensations may also help clients feel more in control over their bodies and health. By learning to listen to small signals in the body, clients may be able to manage physical and emotional symptoms effectively. This process may help them feel less disconnected and more embodied. It can also give natural relief to those going through chronic conditions, such as pain, migraines, and mental health conditions.
This procedure is often safe and may involve few risks regarding long-term treatment. If you're interested in trying biofeedback, consider reaching out to your primary care physician to discuss the risks and benefits of your case.
Counseling Options For Stress
If you're experiencing stress and anxiety, you might benefit from biofeedback alongside other treatments. Stress and anxiety can have several adverse side effects and significantly impact your quality of life. However, stress and anxiety are common and can be treated and managed. Common treatments for stress and anxiety can include medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.
In addition, a significant body of evidence suggests that online therapy platforms can provide valuable tools to those experiencing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and several other issues. In one study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, researchers looked at the usefulness of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) when treating symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Participants reported significantly reduced symptoms of stress after treatment, in addition to decreased feelings associated with depression. CBT works by helping individuals understand and replace the intrusive, negative thoughts that can lead to unwanted feelings and actions, such as those related to stress and anxiety.
With online counseling through a platform like BetterHelp, you can participate in therapy from the comfort of your home via live chat, videoconferencing, or voice call. You may also be able to reach out to your licensed therapist 24/7. You can message them, and they will reply as soon as possible. The mental health professionals available online can give you information and techniques for managing stress and living a balanced, healthy life.
“Marcia has been helping me navigate a very difficult time in my life. I have noticed my stress and anxiety levels have decreased since working with her. I now have someone qualified to speak to about the things that have been troubling me this year.”
“I have greatly enjoyed working with Jason. We have met frequently via virtual video meetings over the past several months, and he has been incredible in helping me to address my stress at work, in life, and everything in between, amid a global pandemic. He is very adept at listening, identifying underlying thought processes, discussing issues, and working towards productive solutions. I always look forward to meeting with him, and I would highly recommend Jason to anyone and everyone!”
Who developed the technique of biofeedback?
The mind-body technique of biofeedback was developed by the early practitioners of yoga, medicine, and meditation, centuries before scientists began formalizing theories of biofeedback in the late 19th century. These theories focused on homeostasis and the management of autonomic nervous system functions such as muscle activity, blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate.
Today, some people trace the professional development of biofeedback to the Biofeedback Research Society, formed in 1969. This group, now called the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB), aims to improve scientific understanding of biofeedback and advance its overall technique and application in healthcare.
What is the theory behind biofeedback?
Proponents of biofeedback theorize that individuals can learn how to change their physiological activity – like heart rate or breathing patterns – to improve their health and performance. By teaching people how to control certain automatic body functions, healthcare professionals may be able to help patients achieve a variety of outcomes, including:
- Reduce symptoms of a medical condition
- Relieve chronic pain
- Improve stress management
- Enhance physical or mental performance: for example, in preparation for an athletic event or major exam
According to this theory, a biofeedback treatment can be designed to address any of these goals, as well as other physiological manifestations of anxiety and stress-related health problems.
What is the technology of biofeedback?
Biofeedback employs several kinds of technology to measure individuals’ automatic body functions.
During a biofeedback session, a clinician usually applies electrodes to different parts of a patient’s body. These electrodes are connected to electronic equipment that displays a variety of bodily measurements, including heartbeat, blood pressure, perspiration, breathing rate, and the rhythm and volume of breathing.
Depending on the desired measurement, some common tests enabled by biofeedback technology include:
- An electromyogram (EMG), used to measure muscle tension.
- Thermal biofeedback to measure skin temperature.
- An electroencephalogram (EEG), also called EEG biofeedback, used to measure electrical activity in the brain.
Who is the father of EMG biofeedback?
John Basmajian, Ph.D., is commonly described as the “father” of EMG biofeedback. Using electromyography (EMG), which measures the electrical activity of skeletal muscles, this type of biofeedback can help patients understand and improve their muscle performance.
Basmaijian pioneered this field through his early work with polio in the 1960s. By adapting his EMG feedback research to his clinical practice, Basmaijian trained patients how to regain control of their muscle functions after neural or muscular injury and lead healthier, fuller lives.
Who is the father of neurofeedback?
John Kamiya, Ph.D., is commonly referred to as the father of neurofeedback. Kamiya conducted one of the first neurofeedback experiments in the late 1960s and found evidence that people can observe and gain voluntary control of their own brain activity.
Kamiya specifically showed that people can gain conscious control of “alpha” brain waves, which are dominant when the brain is alert yet relaxed. By increasing their production of alpha waves, individuals may be able to reduce anxiety and improve their memory, alertness, and relaxation.
Is biofeedback a psychological intervention?
As a mind-body technique, biofeedback is both a psychological and biological intervention.
Trained practitioners of biofeedback recognize the connection between physiological changes and certain psychological states. By measuring changes in a person’s body, health professionals can help patients become more aware of the mind-body connection, better control their physiological changes, and thus better control their psychological states.
Is biofeedback physiological or psychological?
Biofeedback is both physiological and psychological. As a physical therapy, biofeedback employs a variety of devices to measure physiological changes in the body. Using this physiological information, patients can learn how to become more aware of their bodily activity – for example, their breathing patterns or heart rate – and modify their physiology to improve their psychological health.
From a psychological perspective, practitioners of biofeedback view the mind and body as an interconnected system. Consequently, biofeedback techniques utilize a variety of cognitive approaches to promote patients’ mental health, including imagery, meditation, visualization, and self-awareness exercises.
What are the stages of biofeedback psychology?
Biofeedback psychology can be broken down into three stages or phases, although the process may vary depending on the psychologist’s approach and the patient’s needs. These three stages are:
- Initial Conceptualization: An individual gains awareness of a “maladaptive” physiological response (for example, a high heart rate) and its relationship with certain thoughts and/or other bodily activities.
- Skills Acquisition and Rehearsal: The individual learns how to better control the maladaptive response and consciously relax.
- Transfer of Treatment: Equipped with emotion-focused coping strategies, biofeedback patients can “transfer” their new knowledge to control and reduce the unwanted response in their daily lives.
Most biofeedback treatments progress through these three stages. Throughout this process, establishing social support networks can supplement the individual work of recognizing and ultimately reducing stress in the body.
What is the significance of biofeedback?
Biofeedback makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the mind-body connection.
For many people, negative life events contribute to changes in their physical health. Biofeedback demonstrates that people can regain control of their physiological responses and positively change the way their minds and bodies function, both during and after a stressful life event.
This philosophy can be applied to treat a variety of physical and mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, migraines, incontinence, and chronic pain.
What is the role of biofeedback in dealing with stress?
Biofeedback offers several powerful techniques to deal with stress. By taking physical measurements that can be linked to stress, such as heart rate, muscle tension, and sweat levels, biofeedback empowers patients to understand and regain control of stress-related responses in their bodies.
Some examples of the role of biofeedback in stress reduction include:
- Learning how certain visual or auditory signals may correspond with feelings of stress, using “real-time” measurements of a person’s bodily activities.
- Using a specific stress reduction method called resonant breathing, which helps patients control their heart rates and breathing patterns.
- Teaching emotion-focused coping skills, which emphasize the individual, their emotions, and their emotional responses in the context of intimate relationships.
- Some practitioners of emotion-focused coping describe this strategy as a subset of biofeedback, which aims to reduce stress by enhancing emotional awareness.
In addition to biofeedback sessions, many health professionals encourage patients to build their social and community ties, noting the connection between social support and stress relief.
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