Biofeedback is a powerful tool, which can greatly facilitate treatment. When you were learning your ABC’s, someone showed you how the letters were formed and you practiced until you could reproduce them. Imagine how much harder it would have been if you were trying to learn your ABC’s while blindfolded, relying only on what you were being told regarding the shape of the letters and how you were doing. Learning how to turn off your Fight Flight mechanism and how to deeply relax is similar. It is so much easier if you can see how you are doing, second by second. You can see where you are, where you are going, what is working, and what is not working.
Another important benefit of Biofeedback is that people are always surprised at how much their thinking affects their physiology. They can be relaxing and if they get a worry thought, the biofeedback shows the negative effect that has on their physiology. This might be a worry thought about something outside the office or they may be getting frustrated that their physiology is not doing what they want. They learn that anger and frustration does not work and they cannot “make” themselves relax. They learn to keep in mind the goal, which is to find a peaceful, relaxed state of mind, and they learn to “allow” that to happen rather than try to “make” it happen. Once they start to catch on, they not only feel better physiologically, but they have a sense of accomplishment and a renewed self-confidence. Then, it is just a matter of practice, practice in the office with the aid of the Biofeedback equipment, and practice at home. In time, the relaxation becomes automatic. The biofeedback, therefore, does not just guide a person into a more desired physiological state, but also teaches them to maintain a positive and non-stressed attitude.
At Holistic Health & Counseling Center, we use the latest state of the art Biofeedback equipment and we have multiple engaging computer based feedback screens, which provide visual and auditory feedback. A session involves applying sensors to the fingers to show Heart Rate, Heart Rate Variability, Skin Temperature, and Skin Conductivity. We can also apply sensors to the forehead or between the neck and shoulders for Muscle Tension and about the waist and chest to show Abdominal vs. Chest Breathing. It is important to measure all these parameters initially because different people show stress in different ways. Everyone’s breathing and heart rate become disordered with stress, but some people show stress with cold hands, some with sweaty palms, and some with increased muscle tension. Even if you don’t have changes you have noticed, “The body does not lie,” and your stress is reflected in your physiology and on the Biofeedback screen. Perhaps these physiological changes have been a source of embarrassment for you in the past, but now they become your tools for gaining self-control. In time, besides learning to relax, you naturally correlate the levels of relaxation with feelings in your body so you know outside the office where you are and how to change it. And, like any other skill, with practice, it becomes automatic.
When the 19-year-old young woman came in for her 10th Biofeedback session, we asked how she was doing. Her face lit up. “I am doing great. My hands used to always be cold. Now, they are always warm, but if they start to get cold, I notice it, and they warm up!”
So she is saying that her hands used to “always be cold,” a sign of chronic anxiety. Now, they are “always warm,” a sign of calmness and relaxation. But if she starts to get nervous in a situation and her hands start to get cold, “I notice it, and they warm up!” She is saying she doesn’t even have to try to relax. It just happens automatically when she becomes aware that she is getting nervous, just as you automatically adjust as you ride a bike or drive a car.
Below are just a few of the many Biofeedback screens we use.
Paced Breathing and Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback
The above screen is to learn Paced Breathing and is for Heart Rate Variability. One follows the yellow ball, inhaling as the ball goes up, holding it for a moment at the top, exhaling as the ball goes down, and then holding it again for a moment. This pacer will guide the person to a relaxed 6 breaths per minute. In order to relax, we want abdominal rather than chest breathing. The right center of the display shows that there is little movement of the chest, the top light colored line. There is good abdominal movement with each breath, shown by the blue line. The pink stair step line shows a very healthy heart rate pattern, with the heart rate increasing on the in breath and decreasing on the out breath. When the heart rate is varying like this, there is a nerve, which sends a signal from the heart to the amygdala, turning off the Fight Flight response. The bar graphs on the left shows that the heart rate variability is not too slow, the pink bar, or too fast, the blue bar.
Skin Conductivity or Electrodermal Response Biofeedback
Unless you are a hardened Psychopath, your Skin Conductivity or SC is very responsive to your mental state. On this screen, the SC, 1.06 in this example, is shown by the number, by the bar graph, and by the line graph. The graph on the bottom right shows the SC over the entire session. When relaxing, the SC goes down and the person can see this moment by moment, and thus learn what works and what doesn’t, and they learn how much their thoughts affect their stress level. When the SC is going down, the music comes on and the animation (top right) progresses.
Skin Temperature Biofeedback
Skin Temperature also reflects stress level, although it is different in different people. Some people’s hands get cold when stressed but others get warm, especially if angry. This screen is laid out like the SC screen. In this example, the Skin Temperature is 87.40 degrees. Yes, the temperature is measured to the hundredth of a degree, thus showing small changes in mental state. The greater the degree of precision, the easier it is to learn to control one’s physiology.
Combined Neurofeedback and Biofeedback
This screen is used for single channel Neurofeedback training along with Biofeedback training. The training is focused on Neurofeedback, but the physiologic variables can also be monitored since, in the case of improving attention, we want to teach a relaxed, natural attention rather than a forced or stressed attention. Many people with ADHD have learned to focus by pushing themselves, by literally activating their adrenalin and Fight Flight system in order to compensate for their ADHD. With a screen like this, they can learn the more desirable relaxed focus. Since they are learning to activate their brains, the results are permanent.Please call us at 407-644-3593 to learn more about how biofeedback can help you.