What Is Biofeedback?

What is Biofeedback?

Biofeedback uses computer technology and sophisticated instruments to detect and amplify on-going body functions — for example muscle activity, skin temperature, brain wave rhythms, heart function, breathing, and skin conductivity (sweating) — that were once thought to be “involuntary,” or not under our control. These instruments rapidly and accurately “feedback” information to us. The presentation of this information – often in conjunction with changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior – familiarizes us with the activity in our various body systems so we may learn to control this activity to relieve stress and improve health.

Many stress-related illnesses (e.g., high blood pressure (hypertension), reduced peripheral blood flow (Raynaud’s disease), headaches) are due to over-activation of physiological systems in response to stressful events. Although we are often not aware that these responses are occurring, they can have a cumulative negative effect on our health. If we can change these responses, we can eliminate much discomfort and illness and enhance our general quality of life.

Trying to change physiological activity without biofeedback is like trying to ride a bicycle blindfolded and without a sense of balance. This represents a learning situation that lacks adequate feedback. Without the necessary cues, deviation from the intended course is not perceived and control cannot be achieved. With feedback, control is learned because errors and appropriate responses are recognized.

Biofeedback is not a treatment. Rather, biofeedback training is an educational process for learning specialized mind/body skills. Learning to recognize physiological responses and alter them is not unlike learning to play the piano or tennis — it requires practice. Through practice, we learn to control them rather than having them control us.

What is it used for?

The most common use of biofeedback is to help people learn how to relax. The body functions that can be measured by biofeedback can often be used to indicate the body’s reaction to stress. We all know the difference between feeling tense and feeling relaxed, but the sensitive instruments used in biofeedback actually measure the body’s response to those states. By seeing or hearing the changes in that response as tension gives way to relaxation, you can earn to recognize and, to some extent, control the symptoms of stress. Once you have learned this, with the help of the biofeedback equipment, it becomes possible to control those same symptoms without the machine.

Biofeedback training can provide relief from a number of stress-related medical illnesses, including headache, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic pain due to muscle spasm, nerve injury, or vascular insufficiency. Anxiety responses and insomnia, can also be addressed through biofeedback. In addition, biofeedback is used to explore specialized states of awareness, enhance meditation, promote psychological development, and generally improve the quality of life.

Who should use it?

Anyone can use biofeedback to learn how to reduce stress. The ability to do this has been shown in scientific literature to have a beneficial effect on many stress-related illnesses. Biofeedback has helped people who suffer from such stress-induced problems as headaches or insomnia. It can also be used as an aid in giving up cigarette smoking, excessive drinking, overeating or other health-threatening habits. Finally biofeedback can be useful as a preventive measure for people in good health. A regular relaxation routine, which can be learned through biofeedback, can conserve energy, allow you to sleep more soundly, awaken more refreshed, and lesson the normal everyday anxieties that everyone has.