Biofeedback has been shown to help with anxiety, depression, headaches, chronic pain, incontinence, and high blood pressure. Basically, biofeedback is a simple way to improve your mind-body connection and learn to regulate your nervous system. In this video you’re going to learn all about biofeedback, and by the end of this video, you’ll know how to do it on your own, without any equipment.
When you open your mouth, wave to a friend, or go for a walk, you make a choice to do that. You’re using the somatic nervous system.
But how fast you breathe or how fast your heart beats isn’t something you usually think about. Your heart just beats faster when you’re excited and more slowly when you’re calm. Heart rate and a bunch of other bodily functions are controlled by the autonomic nervous system.
Most people have no idea that you can learn to change your heart rate, your skin temperature, your breathing, and your blood pressure by learning to regulate your nervous system with biofeedback.
In this video you’re going to learn how biofeedback can help you improve both mental and physical health.
Biofeedback has been shown to help with anxiety, depression, headaches, chronic pain, incontinence, and high blood pressure.
Basically, biofeedback is a simple way to improve your mind-body connection and learn to regulate your nervous system. In this video you’re going to learn all about biofeedback, and by the end of this video you’ll know how to do it on your own, without any equipment.
Hi everyone. If you’re new, I’m Emma McAdam. I’m a licensed therapist, and I boil down mental health skills into concise little videos. And today we’re talking about biofeedback.
Biofeedback is literally feedback about what your biology is doing. About 90% of the things going on with your body right now are subconscious: your breathing, heart rate, digestion, blood pressure — your autonomic nervous system is just running those without you thinking about it.
With biofeedback you can actually measure what is going on with your autonomic nervous system and learn to calm it down. This can be super helpful with anxiety and other physical conditions.
My Experiences With Biofeedback
I first learned about biofeedback in Psych 101 my freshman year of college. I sat in an auditorium with a few hundred other students and we all learned to drop our heart rate. Now, later in this video I’m going to teach you the technique I learned, but first let me tell you what I did with it.
After I had been practicing biofeedback for a while, I was curious to see how much I could impact my heart rate. I had a doctor’s appointment coming up and I knew he would check my heart rate more precisely than I could on my own.
When I got into the exam room, I started my practice, slowing my system down. To my surprise, it worked even better than I expected. The doctor asked “What are you, a marathon runner? Your heart rate was 28 beats per minute!” (The average resting heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute; for athletes it’s 40-60).
I was pleased with my little trick, but even more importantly, this skill has helped me regulate my mind, my emotions, and my actions by being able to create a state of calm.
Feedback About Your Nervous System
So what is this technique? What was I doing? At its essence, biofeedback is just a way for you to get feedback into what your autonomic nervous system is doing.
There’s a couple of ways to do this, but usually you use monitors and a screen to create a visual representation of what’s going on inside of you. You can measure heart rate, breathing rate, skin temperature, and conductivity (how sweaty your hands are), and you can even measure brain waves.
When you can see what your nervous system is doing, then you can learn to change it. So, for example, when you’re watching your heart rate, you can experiment with different techniques like thoughts or breathing and watch in real time as your heart rate drops or rises.
This all comes down to showing you what state your nervous system is in. If you’re in the high-alert state, the FFF response, you’ll have higher heart rate, faster breathing, sweatier hands, etc.
Most people aren’t very aware of this. They don’t notice that they’re spending a lot of time in this stressed-out state. And they don’t know how to change it.
Your nervous system has a natural calming state, the parasympathetic state, also known as rest and digest. In this state, you’re calm and your body is healing. If you’re in this state, your heart rate and breathing drop, your hands are warmer and drier, your muscles relax.
Using biofeedback, you can learn to change the things that we normally consider to be out of our control. You can learn to turn on your parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) response with feedback and practice.
Let me show you one way to do it.
Biofeedback at Home
You can do your own basic biofeedback exercise without special equipment. Here’s the technique I learned in Psych 101.
When you’re just starting to learn, it’s easier if you do this in a quiet, dim, comfortable place where you can be alone. Sit or lay down and find your pulse. Count your heart rate for 30 seconds.
Now don’t worry about counting for a little bit. Just stay where you are and pay attention to your pulse. Notice what it is doing and what it feels like.
Now pay attention to your breathing, while still keeping your fingers on your pulse. Take longer, slower, deeper breaths. What happens to your pulse when you breathe in? When you hold it in? When you let it out? When you hold it out?
Tell me in the comments what you noticed.
For many people, your heart rate speeds up when you breathe in and slows down when you breathe out. This is a good thing. People who are calm tend to have this healthy pattern of heart rate variability where the heart rate gently increases with the in breath and decreases with the out breath.
If you didn’t notice this, don’t worry; you can train yourself to increase your HRV over time.
We can use awareness of our heartbeats to train our bodies and minds to calm down.
This was a really simple biofeedback exercise.
You can use more specialized equipment to get more information and practice regulating your nervous system. Some therapists have biofeedback devices in their offices — but sessions can be quite expensive over time.
But there are some devices you can use at home.
Recently Flowly sent me their VR biofeedback kit to try out. It uses a heart rate monitor connected to your ear and your phone to create a VR experience that teaches you to calm yourself down and train your nervous system to relax.
You can also use some other sensors like HeartMath or a heart rate monitor combined with some apps. We’re going to talk a lot more about heart rate variability in the next video in the series. HRV is one of the more important measures of your nervous system state.
Basically, biofeedback is, as Dr. Gervitz says, “A brand-new idea that is 2500 years old.” People have been practicing mindful breathing for thousands of years and observed the positive effects. Now we are able to measure them using machines with a display.
If you practice biofeedback for a few minutes a day, your parasympathetic response will improve over time, even when you’re not intentionally trying to calm down.
Basically the calming side of your nervous system gets stronger.
Because your autonomic nervous system is connected to every part of your body, learning to influence it is powerful.
Biofeedback has been shown to help with muscle tension, chronic pain, and migraines. It can help lower blood pressure, manage anxiety and depression, and decrease dependence on pain medication and opiates.
If you’re interested in learning more about biofeedback, stay tuned, because this is the first in a four-part series on biofeedback, HRV, chronic pain, and VR for mental health.
And if you’d like to learn more about Flowly, check out the link below. As always, thanks for watching, and take care.