December 9, 2022

Biofeedback – What It is and How It Works 

Biofeedback is the use of electrical equipment to monitor a person’s biological and neurological processes, while displaying that data back to the individual in question. The aim of biofeedback is typically to help people learn to regulate certain bodily functions that they feel are outside of their control, such as the stress response. There are numerous approaches to biofeedback, involving a range of different devices.  

Autonomous Processes 

Many of the processes going on in your body and brain are outside of direct conscious control. In other words, they are ‘autonomous’. This is basically a good thing — it would be pretty tiring to keep track of all the systems and processes in your body. Plus, the conscious brain isn’t powerful enough. People struggle to manage taxes, let alone micromanaging a complex biological system. S,o it’s better left to the unconscious mind. 

However, sometimes we need to take the reins again and learn to develop conscious control of various systems. Usually, these systems cannot be controlled by the conscious mind directly, but they can be controlled indirectly.  

For example, breathing is automatic, but you can ‘take over’ your breathing anytime you want, and breathe as fast or as slow as your heart desires. This is direct control. However, you can control breathing indirectly – if you go for a jog, you will make your breathing speed up even when you’re not consciously controlling it.  

Objective Feedback 

Most of the time, people use biofeedback to control processes indirectly. For example, imagine you are stressed out and unable to relax. A biofeedback device might monitor your heart rate and galvanic skin response to determine your stress level, and then display it to you on a screen. Your job would then be to use a certain technique, like meditation or deep breathing, to reduce your stress level. 

By feeding your stress level back to you, a biofeedback device can help you figure out for sure what works for you. There’s no guesswork. You try different breathing techniques, and you’ll see how it affects your physiology in real time. You can learn exactly how deep you need to breathe in or how slowly you need to breathe out to reduce your autonomous stress response. Then, you can take that knowledge into your daily life to make you more resilient to stress. 

Studies have shown that biofeedback can be an effective treatment for a range of conditions, including stress, migraines, incontinence, ADHD and PTSD. 

A Growing Industry 

Biofeedback was once the domain of top-level athletes, the medical profession, and NASA, but consumer biofeedback is becoming more popular thanks to products like the Fitbit, Stress Eraser and others. There are even some affordable products that are able to monitor brain activity. 

Biofeedback shows great promise as an empowering, drug-free method to treat certain conditions. However, it’s always advisable to consult your physician before pursuing any new treatments.