According to recent reports, approximately 1 in 6 people in the United States are currently taking medication for a mental health issue. While this means they’re being proactive and seeking treatment, it also means they’re most likely dealing with a host of unwanted side effects from said prescriptions. Thus, more and more individuals are looking at alternative therapies, including newer, technology-infused methods like biofeedback.
For those unfamiliar with the term, biofeedback is a process that uses information gathered from the body/brain to influence behavior. More specifically, it’s a “technique that trains people to improve their health by controlling certain bodily processes that normally happen involuntarily, such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature.” Participants usually have electrodes, or sensors, attached to them to closely monitor the function they’re looking to control. However, as technology continues to evolve, the same observation can be achieved through equipment most consumers already possess, like smart phones and Fitbits. With the help of a therapist trained in biofeedback, the individual watches the progression of his/her bodily function and learns to control it through a variety of mental exercises. It’s a highly individualized process, which varies based on the condition it’s trying to treat, as well as the participant. Biofeedback works with a number of different issues, including but not limited to: ADHD, incontinence, anxiety, chronic pain, high blood pressure, depression, learning disabilities, eating disorders, Parkinson’s, and migraines. Although there’s still some mystery as to how biofeedback actually works, according to the experts at the University of Maryland Medical Center, a majority of the disorders improved by this technique seem to be linked to stress. Also, the success of biofeedback, involving the rewarding experience of seeing the relationship between the mental and the physical activities evolve, in turn, prompts additional growth. To learn more about the procedures associated with biofeedback, visit UMD’s Medical Center web site: http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/biofeedback. Biofeedback itself may be a newer therapeutic tool, but the logic behind it is age old.
In fact, you may be employing an underlying practice of this therapy without even realizing it. In a recent presentation at Brigham Young University, psychology professor Patrick Steffen addressed a number of new and returning students about how they can manage stress throughout the school year. He referred to biofeedback and self-regulation, interchangeably, and spoke to the dangers of stress. Some stress, he argues, is good for you, since it activates our innate fight-or-flight response necessary for survival. In modern times, unfortunately, our brains can get confused, triggering this natural impulse on a daily basis in the absence of the dangers of old—like natural predators, or battle. When humans lack the ability to control this sustained, elevated level of stress, then serious medical problems can arise, including increased mortality. One of the easiest ways to combat this, however, actually requires no technology, just breathing. Slow, rhythmic breathing allows your body to receive more oxygen, which is good for both the body and the brain. “Steffen said that breathing in for five seconds, then breathing out for five seconds, over the period of a few minutes a day, can help form healthy breathing habits through muscle memory.” Unlike the breathing practices of yogis, though, the goal of this isn’t deep relaxation, it’s calm and control. For more tips from Prof. Steffen, read this: http://universe.byu.edu/2017/08/22/education-week-managing-stress-through-biofeedback1/. Where the more involved aspects of biofeedback come into play is when an individual is struggling to manage these breathing techniques on his/her own. That’s the point of the additional monitoring and assistance of a therapist—because at some point, your body/brain has forgotten how to accomplish these natural processes on its own.
For those uncomfortable with the idea of being attached to multiple monitors and electrodes, and unaffected by the tactic of mindful breathing, there may be another solution for you. With younger audiences in mind, researchers at Boston’s Children Hospital developed a biofeedback video game called Mighteor. The game is designed for tablets, comes in a subscription format to allow for constant updates and modifications, and includes a biofeedback wristband to send information to the game developers (and parents) who can then use it for individualized treatment/game play. With the same aim as the aforementioned techniques, this game introduces more and more obstacles throughout the journey, which only abate as the player calms down. Thus, if a child wants to excel at the game, he/she must build the strategies for self-regulation. To increase the development of muscle memory (much as Prof. Steffen prescribed), researchers recommend that participants interact with the game at least 45 minutes weekly. Thus far, this game has been quite popular with its intended audience and seems to be effective in clinical trials. Other mental health professionals aren’t quite sold on this form of the therapy, however, and are pressing for additional investigation. To read more about Mighteor, click here: https://www.additudemag.com/video-games-biofeedback-adhd-anxiety-emotional-control/.
Whichever method works best for you and your family, all forms of biofeedback have a distinct advantage: no side effects. If you’re intrigued and want to know how this technique can benefit your condition, we recommend consulting with a professional first before downloading an app or video game. Biofeedback relies heavily on your specific biology, and the techniques are so varies that you will benefit from having a therapist to guide you into finding those strategies that work best for you. At Focal Points, we believe in biofeedback, and utilize it often. Visit this page to hear how it’s helped our clients: https://focalpointstherapy.com/testimonials/.