Your body houses an accelerator system and a brake system to rev you up and calm you down. The accelerator/brake systems of your body work together to move you fluidly from calm to stressed, depending on your perception of your environment. It is very common for chronic stress or trauma to have caused your accelerator to be stuck on, leading to an inability to relax. This may manifest as trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, inability to focus, chronic pain, headaches, and more. It is this underlying physiological change that is often over-looked in mental health.
Biofeedback training is used to gain control of your accelerator/brake systems. You will learn to become aware of how your body responds to stress and how it returns to a calmer state, eventually leading to conscious control over these systems. In time, you will be able to generalize the skills learned in session to everyday life, to control your body anywhere and anytime leading to an overall improvement in relaxation and health.
TYPES OF BIOFEEDBACK
Although there are several different types of biofeedback, each of which addresses a different aspect of the body’s physiology, it is extremely important to remember that the body functions as a whole and everything is connected. So when we use one type of biofeedback, we are actually affecting the entire body.
HEART RATE VARIABILITY
Heart rate variability is a measure of the heart’s flexibility to adapt to any demand placed upon it by the body or the mind. The more variability in the intervals between heartbeats, the more adaptable your heart is. HRV training helps train your accelerator/brake system to be more flexible and adaptive, freeing up access to the calming effects of the brake system.
When we breathe at 6-10 breaths per minute for just 5-10 minutes, blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension all decrease. For many, respiration rate remains elevated even during sleep, which can cause you to wake up during the night and causes sleep to be non-restorative. Learning to control breathing is the most important tool biofeedback provides, as it reconnects the body and mind, and establishes an easy to use method of accessing the relaxation system of the body.
Temperature is a measure of blood flow to a specific area – more blood flow results in a higher temperature. When the accelerator is on, blood vessels in the extremities (i.e. hands and feet) become constricted. When the brakes are on, blood vessels in the extremities open again, increasing the temperature. By measuring temperature of the hands and feet we can then identify if you are in a relaxation mode or stress mode. Biofeedback provides you with this information in real time so you can learn how to increase the blood flow to extremities and activate a more relaxed state.
When the body’s accelerator is on, sweat glands become activated as a way for the body to release excess heat. Sweat is a charged liquid since it contains ions, which are good conductors of electricity. Thus, when the stress response is activated the skin conducts more electricity. Skin conductance is just another modality we can use to determine if your body’s stress response is activated.
When a stressor is perceived, the muscles in the body become more tense so they are ready for action at a moment’s notice. When a stressor is always being perceived, the body’s accelerator is always on and the muscles are in constant tension. Biofeedback provides you with a visualization of this muscle tension so you can begin recognizing it and learning what it feels like to have relaxed muscles.