If you’ve looked around lately, you’ve probably seen it on people’s faces – they’re stressed, overwhelmed, and struggling to stay afloat in a world that continually changes. As if the pandemic wasn’t hard enough, we’re not battling the repercussions due to that strange period. For years, we spent time stressing about our health and how our loved ones with underlying conditions would fare through a virus we knew little about.
Now that treatment is available and the world is slowly getting back to normal, supply lines have been squeezed, prices have gone up, and we’ve dealt with stress and anxiety like we never had before. We need anything to help us, and biofeedback therapy is a way to potentially manage our issues.
Although we enjoy many benefits of a modern developed world in the United States, did you know that the country is considered one of the most stressed-out countries globally? Well, the American Institute of Stress backs up that claim and says the top source of stress is due to the rise in prices of everyday items caused by inflation, which is affecting gas, energy, and groceries, the basic necessities we need to survive and be comfortable.
There are many sources of stress these days, and we are facing a national mental health crisis that will lead to severe health and social consequences for the years to follow. Despite acclimating to a “new reality,” 78 percent of Americans say the COVID-19 pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. Two in three adults have experienced increased stress because of the pandemic. Our youngest generation is at the highest risk of developing more severe conditions as a result of this stress, and many are reporting symptoms of depression.
The most recent statistics from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) found that 40 million adults in the United States are currently struggling with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, equating to 19.1 percent of the population. Those figures could soar as these levels of high stress persist. However, despite their treatability, only 36.9 percent of people struggling will seek treatment. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 million adults or 3.1 percent of the total population. However, only 43.2 percent are receiving treatment like biofeedback therapy.
As a result of the stress and trauma we’ve endured, major depressive disorder (MDD) is a serious concern, and it’s considered the leading cause of disability in the United States for those aged 15 to 44. An estimated 21 million adults in the country are struggling, translating to 8.4 percent of the population. Only 61.7 percent of those with the condition are receiving the treatment they need.
Whether you have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, substance use disorder (SUD), or another brain condition, biofeedback therapy is an effective non-drug treatment to teach individuals how to control involuntary bodily processes, including blood pressure, muscle tension, or heart rate. Altering these functions can help immensely with trauma, stress, and anxiety, but how does it work? What is biofeedback therapy?
What Is Biofeedback Therapy?
According to the Mayo Clinic, biofeedback is a technique used to control your body’s involuntary functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. During a biofeedback session, the individual is connected to electrical sensors that help doctors receive information about your body and how it reacts to external stimuli.
The feedback enables you to make subtle changes in your body and how you react, such as relaxing certain muscles instead of tensing up. It can help immensely with the conditions described above, as well as those struggling with chronic pain. Simply put, biofeedback provides you with the ability to practice new ways to control your body. The primary objective is to improve health conditions and physical performance, reduce stress, and help you get through a trauma.
Types of Biofeedback Therapy
There are various approaches to biofeedback therapy, and your therapist will use one of the following approaches to help you achieve your goal(s). The approach is dependent on your health problem and what you’re looking to accomplish.
- Heart rate: This portion of biofeedback therapy uses earlobe or finger sensors with a device that detects blood volume changes. Sensors instead might be placed on your lower torso, chest, or wrist, which uses an electrocardiograph (ECG) to measure your heart rate or how the heart rate varies.
- Breathing: During the respiratory approach of biofeedback, therapists will place bands around your abdomen and chest, which monitor respiration rate and breathing patterns.
- Brain waves: This approach to biofeedback therapy uses scalp sensors to monitor brain waves by using an electroencephalograph (EEG).
- Sweat gland activity: Therapists will wrap sensors around your fingers or palm with an electrodermograph (EDP) to measure the activity of your sweat glands. The test will check the amount of perspiration present on your skin and how you’re alerted to anxiety.
- Muscle contraction: This approach involves the placement of sensors on your skeletal muscles with an electromyography (EMG) to measure the electrical activity of your muscle contractions.
- Temperature: This approach consists of sensors attached to your feet or fingers to measure blood flow to the skin. Since your temperature drops when you’re stressed out, lower reading can prompt you to start relaxation techniques.
Biofeedback Therapy Devices
It’s possible for you to receive biofeedback therapy in clinics, hospitals, and medical centers. You can take home various biofeedback devices, including:
- Interactive computer programs or mobile devices
- Wearable devices
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some devices to help you reduce stress and lower blood pressure. However, they don’t regulate all biofeedback devices that can be brought home. Before you try this approach at home, speak with your doctor to find out what works the best. Some products could be falsely marketed, so buyers beware.
What Is the Purpose of Biofeedback Therapy?
The primary objective of biofeedback is to combat stress through relaxation techniques. We’re all too quick to seek medication to treat our ailments, but biofeedback provides you with a natural and more holistic approach to managing your stress. It’s understandable that in times like now, you want to feel better, but you must exhaust all of your resources first before considering medication. With biofeedback, you can consciously manipulate your heart rate, breathing, and other involuntary functions, enabling you to override your body’s response to stressful scenarios.
Studies have shown that biofeedback therapy is most effective for conditions influenced by stress. Some examples of this include eating disorders, learning disorders, bedwetting, and muscle spasms. However, biofeedback can help you with various other physical and mental health issues, including the following:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Chemotherapy side effects
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
- Stress or anxiety
- Raynaud’s disease
Many people prefer the biofeedback approach because it’s non-invasive and doesn’t rely on medication. Medications have side effects, whereas this does not. In some cases, people will use biofeedback in conjunction with other more traditional treatment options like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for maximum wellness. However, sometimes people with chemical imbalances in their brain will need medication.
How Does Biofeedback Work?
As was mentioned above, there are different approaches to biofeedback therapy. Electrical sensors will be connected to a monitor, which is then hooked up to someplace in your body. These sensors will measure the various signs of stress, including how your muscles tense up due to external stimuli, how your heart rate reacts, or if your body temperature decreases. These measurements offer important feedback about how it responds to the stimuli you encounter.
Biofeedback therapists will teach you how to lower your heart rate through relaxation techniques, exercise, and other mental exercises. These are extremely beneficial to your wellbeing, especially if you’ve been going through hardships as a result of rising costs, the pandemic, or other things more serious. The therapist will measure the results of these exercises and techniques on the monitor, which will encourage more relaxation and positive reactions.
Typical biofeedback sessions last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. However, care is always tailored around the individual, which can vary. The number of sessions needed to resolve your problem will vary based on a few factors, including the severity of your issues and how quickly you can learn to control the physical responses to stimuli.
As mentioned above, you can also find FDA-approved commercial biofeedback devices designed for home use. Some devices even have handheld monitors, and others can connect to your computer. Again, you must beware of scams. Speak to our primary care physician (PCP) before buying any of these devices. Not all of these manufacturers are reputable or FDA-approved.
Is Biofeedback Therapy Safe?
Fortunately, biofeedback is considered safe by the Mayo Clinic, and no adverse side effects have been reported to date. However, this approach may not be for everyone, and you must consult your primary care physician prior to starting this or any other form of therapy.
How Should I Prepare for Biofeedback Therapy?
If your doctor approves you for biofeedback therapy, there isn’t any special preparation needed for it. To find a therapist that offers biofeedback, speak with your primary care physician or another healthcare professional with knowledge of your medical history and this approach.
Many biofeedback therapists are licensed in other areas of healthcare, including physical therapy, psychology, or nursing. State laws that regulate biofeedback practitioners will also vary. Some therapists choose to receive certifications in this field that highlights their extra training and experience.
Although no preparation is required, you should consider asking the following questions before beginning treatment. These include:
- Can you please provide a list of references?
- Are you licensed, certified, or registered in this field?
- What is your experience in biofeedback, and what training have you conducted?
- Based on my background, how many biofeedback sessions will I need?
- Have you used biofeedback to treat anyone with my condition?
- Is it expensive? Will my insurance cover this form of therapy?
What to Expect During Biofeedback Therapy Sessions
When you’ve cleared all of the hurdles, you’ve been approved for biofeedback therapy, and you asked all of your questions, you might wonder what you can expect during a biofeedback session. Once you start, the therapist will attach electrical sensors to various parts of your body, depending on the approach. These sensors will be used to monitor your muscle tension, breathing, heart rate, skin temperature, and brain waves. The information is then fed back to you through changes on the monitor, a flashing flight, or beeping sounds.
The feedback you receive teaches you how to change and control the body’s reactions by changing emotions, thoughts, or behavior, which is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Biofeedback therapy will help you immensely with the condition you sought treatment for in the first place.
One example of biofeedback is pinpointing muscle tension that could be responsible for headaches you have. Once you know the cause, you can make calculated physical changes in your body, like relaxing those specific muscles, which, in turn, reduces pain. The primary objective of biofeedback is to learn these techniques and then use them at home.
As mentioned above, biofeedback sessions range from 30 to 60 minutes at a time but could be longer depending on your needs. The number of sessions will also vary from one person to the next and rely on your ability to learn how to control physical responses. Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t always cover biofeedback. You can reach out to your insurance company before seeking sessions to avoid any surprise bills from the therapist.
If you find success through biofeedback therapy, you’ll have the ability to control the symptoms of your condition without using drugs or reducing the amount of medication you need. Eventually, you can practice these techniques at home without guidance. You should never stop medical treatment for your condition without consulting your doctor.
Biofeedback for Specific Conditions
If you’ve endured stress, anxiety, or other mental health disorders and would like to avoid prescription medication, we’ll explain how it works for your condition. At this stage, researchers can’t provide an answer as to how biofeedback works. However, it benefits those the most with conditions related to stress.
When someone experiences stress, their internal processes like blood pressure, breathing, or heart rate, become irregular. Biofeedback therapy corrects that by teaching you relaxation and mental exercises that reduce your symptoms, but how does it work for your specific condition?
Biofeedback for Migraine Headaches
If you’ve ever had a headache, you can attest to its debilitating characteristics. Now, imagine a headache that persists for days, sometimes weeks, that’s so severe you can’t even be exposed to light. That’s the reality for many. Even powerful prescription opioids are no match for a migraine’s wrath and can cause more issues than it solves.
For that reason, many people have sought biofeedback therapy and other relaxation techniques to gain control of their lives and manage their migraines. While the studies have produced mixed results, the Michigan Headache and Neurological Institute (MHNI) found that biofeedback therapy improves migraine symptoms in 40 to 60 percent of patients, similar to the rate of medication.
Biofeedback for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
According to a study published in The BMJ, there is evidence that shows EEG biofeedback or neurofeedback can help those struggling with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, more research is necessary to confirm the effectiveness due to the quality of the previous studies.
Biofeedback for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an often crippling condition that affects around 6 percent of the population. An estimated 12 million adults in the United States have PTSD in a given year. Individuals with PTSD have a higher suicide risk, indicating the severity of the condition. It occurs after an individual has endured trauma, which is a shocking or dangerous event that you witness or happens to you. During this event, you believe that your life or others are in danger.
Due to its severity, you can understand why a person would seek out any type of treatment to overcome their symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy is the most common treatment for this disorder. However, more people are seeking out biofeedback therapy for the condition. One study showed that EEG biofeedback therapy “significantly reduced PTSD symptoms” in 17 of those with the condition.
Biofeedback for Anxiety
While research is still limited on this topic, studies have suggested that biofeedback is effective in reducing anxiety. A 2017 study found that compared with no treatment, biofeedback can improve the symptoms of PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. It also shows that using biofeedback therapy in conjunction with other treatments is more beneficial and will lead to more rapid treatment gains than treatment where biofeedback wasn’t implemented.
Heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback can reduce self-reported anxiety and stress, meaning it should be considered an effective treatment option for those experiencing overwhelming anxiety. In a world filled with stress, having outlets like this are crucial.
Biofeedback for Urinary Incontinence
Biofeedback therapy can help those improve urinary incontinence through pelvic floor muscle training. Urinary incontinence is when a person leaks urine despite trying to hold it in. It can happen to anyone, sometimes referred to as overactive bladder. It’s more common in older individuals. It can be extremely embarrassing for some, so a treatment like biofeedback can be life-changing.
Biofeedback for Raynaud’s Disease
Raynaud’s disease is a common condition that typically begins in your 20s or 30s. It’s a condition that causes your body to feel cool and numb in response to emotional stress or cold temperatures. Biofeedback has been shown to reduce the symptoms of Raynaud’s disease. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of those with the condition experienced improved circulation and reduced symptoms after the therapy. The figures speak for themselves, and it’s something to consider if you’re struggling with the illness.
Biofeedback for Chronic Constipation
Constipation isn’t a topic we like to bring up, but it’s something that can cause serious problems if you don’t treat it. Fortunately, biofeedback helped 80 percent of the patients with constipation. This is great news for those who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other conditions that cause chronic constipation. Medications like laxatives might be effective in the short term, but biofeedback therapy can produce more effective results in the long term.
If you’re struggling with any of the conditions we’ve listed above, it might be time to consider a non-invasive option that steers clear of medication. Time to reach out to your doctor today.