Biofeedback is often aimed at changing habitual reactions to stress that can cause pain or disease. In our modern society, we may have forgotten how to relax.
Working with your own physical response feedback (such as heart rate, breathing, muscle tension), you can begin to recognize nuances in your body and learn what helps you to achieve a desired state as well as identify those triggers that move you away from that state.
Ultimately, biofeedback can be part of a treatment plan that can address physical conditions (e.g., headaches, digestive issues, pain); cognitive and emotional conditions (e.g., ADHD, depression, anxiety); and improve overall health and wellbeing (e.g., increase resiliency to stress, improve sports performance, increase positive mood).
What is biofeedback?
Our bodies and mind are intricately connected. This means that our mind can influence our body and vice versa. Biofeedback is one technique that can be helpful in improving one’s physical and mental health by using signals from our own bodies.
Just about everyone has probably used biofeedback already without knowing that was what they were doing. If you have taken your temperature with a thermometer, you have used a device to “feed back” information about your body’s condition, which allows you to take steps to improve your condition (i.e., take fever-reducing medication if you have a fever).
A biofeedback machine can allow you to “see” and/or “hear” activity inside your body. Depending on the condition, you set a goal and use the information you receive from the biofeedback machine to monitor your performance and make internal adjustments to alter the signals, which help you to make strides toward your goal.
What conditions can biofeedback address?
Biofeedback is a technique that can be used to address a variety of physical and mental health conditions. These conditions include, but are not limited to,
- Anxiety and stress
- Attentional issues (e.g., ADHD)
- Disorders of the digestive system
- High and low blood pressure
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Pain issues
What if I don’t have a condition?
Biofeedback can be used in people looking to improve their health and increase their positive affect and coping skills. It is also used among athletes wanting to improve their performance. This can help a person learn how to stay calm and focused during the pressure and excitement of an actual performance. This can also be said about test taking!
What do I have to do?
Biofeedback itself is not intensive and does not hurt; however, the responsibility to practice falls on the student.
- It is important to understand that behavior, thoughts, and feelings have a great influence on your physical health.
- It is important to acknowledge that the majority of the responsibility for maintaining your own health lay with you: you must commit to coming to training sessions, practice biofeedback or relaxation exercises on a regular basis, and possibly even change some habits.
Biofeedback on its own cannot cure a disease, make a person healthy, or make someone a star athlete. This is but one proven tool that is used to address your goals. Working together with a wellness counselor, you will be taught some form of relaxation exercise; you may be asked to identify circumstances that trigger your symptoms; you may be taught how to avoid or cope with your stressful events; you may need to change your habits. You get out only what you are willing to put in!
Adapted from a handout from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health entitled “What is Biofeedback?”