What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback: Using information from the body to gain control over functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and more.
Who Can it Help?
Biofeedback is a critically important skill for those suffering from stress, anxiety, panic, phobias, brain injury, PTSD, ADHD, OCD, addiction; or those simply looking to ‘chill out and relax a bit better. Many are unaware they have control over body systems or functions that are thought to be automatic and out of our control (like mentioned above).
Your Body Changes Physically When You are in Stressed
When people are stressed, their hands start to get cold as part of the sympathetic “fight or flight” response – a process called thermoregulation. When this happens, your body brings blood to more central/vital areas and you lose peripheral circulation in the areas furthest away from your core; which makes your hands, toes, and even parts of your face feel cold.
The Oldest, and Easiest, Form of Biofeedback
Hand-warming biofeedback is one of the simplest and most effective biofeedback exercises you can do yourself with just a little practice and very little cost.
As its name implies, the goal is to warm the hands; which is a direct reflection of your body’s relaxation response. This is not done by holding them over a fire or running them underwater, but as follows:
- The exercise requires a small thermometer. You can find them at some gardening or hardware stores. Alternatively, you can search online using terms like ‘stress thermometer’ or ‘hand warming biofeedback’. The digital thermometer usually comes in a grey plastic case with a little wire that serves as a temperature probe. (Important note: Before buying a particular unit, make sure it is capable of taking measurements to tenths of a degree (e.g. 95.1). This is very important to demonstrate progress with the exercise.)
- Make certain to practice this technique in a quiet area free from distraction and allow 5-10 minutes where you would not have to attend to family, work, animals, devices, etc.
- When you’re ready to start the exercise, tape the wire probe to the tip of a finger (not on the fingernail). Some choose to hold the wire between their finger pads as they get better at it; if you press too firmly you will naturally push blood from the fingers, and they will not get as warm.
- Give it a couple of moments to register the starting temperature of your finger. Then, start to do a simple deep breathing exercise where you breathe in through the nose for 4-5 seconds and out through the mouth for 8-10 seconds. The key is breathing out twice as long as your breath in!
- You should start seeing a change in the temperature of your hands (hopefully increasing). Sometimes it can happen quite quickly. Continue breathing and watching the temperature of your hands as it continues to elevate until the temperature increase stops for a minute.
- From there you can end the exercise and go about your business. Do this several times throughout a day; depending on your levels of stress, anxiety, etc. The more you have, the more you should do!
You are in Control!
You will see very quickly that you have the absolute ability to effectively regulate your stress responses. As you continue practicing this biofeedback, you’ll feel the fingers getting warmer. This is an indication that you’re increasing the peripheral circulation by stimulating your relaxation response. Then, your brain will know, through repeated conditioning, that it has made a BIG change in your physiology.
It gives anyone, regardless of circumstances, the power to control their body systems and respond to stress. This is Brain Training! We’ve seen countless people use this and similar exercises to get past anxiety, panic, and more because it puts them in control. This is immensely empowering as one starts to realize they are in control – not the pill… not the doctor!
For those with more severe presentations, there are doctor-guided tools to help provide the same impact so the individual can eventually begin to practice independently – a story for another article!
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