The science of Biofeedback... FAQs...
What is biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a way to measure, control and balance your nervous system. In biofeedback we attach instruments to your body that measure such things as: muscle tension, heart rate, blood flow through the arteries, sweat gland activity, and respiration. Biofeedback is a way to see what is going on in your body (by magnifying signals with instruments) so that you can learn to consciously control certain bodily functions you do not usually consciously control. Biofeedback is short for “biological feedback".
How many sessions will it take for me to control or eliminate my physical symptoms?
Typically, 12 - 16 sessions is all that is needed to control your symptoms. Migraine headaches normally take around 16 sessions while muscle tension headaches typically take only around 12 sessions. Because it is a training to shift your nervous system, there is follow through at home and your success depends on your follow through and commitment to eliminate your symptoms. If your symptoms are severe or long term it could take longer.
What is the autonomic nervous system (ANS)?
The ANS is the part of the nervous system that is not usually consciously controlled. Digestion, heart rate, circulation, muscle tension, sweat gland activity, blood pressure and countless other bodily functions are usually not consciously controlled.
The ANS consists of two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the para-sympathetic nervous system. In a nutshell, the sympathetic nervous system is associated with an aroused nervous system and the parasympathetic is associated with a normal level of tension in the body and the mind. Nowadays, our nervous sytems are overstimulated and overaroused. It is almost like most people are stuck in high gear. This can cause all sorts of damage to the body since the ANS controls just about every important bodily function.
The sympathetic nervous system has only one job: to protect the body when there is a perceived threat or danger. The physiology to carry out this job developed in humans thousands of years ago. Early people had to protect themselves physically from lions, bears and other tribes, so it was critical that the body have strength and energy in an emergency.
The para-sympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the place where the body can rejuvenate and heal itself. It is important to know how to shift the body into the PNS for both our physical and mental health.
What is the "fight or flight" response?
You may have heard of the term “fight or flight,” which is how we describe this physiological response to danger. When threatened, the body gears up to fight and protect itself or to flee from the danger. The threat could be either a physiological or psychological danger. The body responds in the same way to a physical, emotional or mental threat. The threat could be real or perceived.
This "fight or flight" mechanism still serves us today in crisis situations. For example, when you are driving in traffic, you may need to respond quickly to avoid an accident. If you were to need to run into a burning house to save a loved one, your body would be charged up with strength and energy. You may have heard stories in which a mother is able to lift something as heavy as a car off her trapped child. Usually, a single woman or man would not have the strength to do that. But when the sympathetic nervous system is activated, adrenaline, and other powerful hormones, are released into the bloodstream to give the body an extra boost of strength and energy.
Think about how your body would react if you felt threatened. Your heart rate would probably increase, your muscles would tighten and your breathing would speed up. Many other changes would occur as well. Your body would automatically begin hormonal alterations and biochemical changes in the brain. Take a look at the following chart, which summarizes some of the ways your body is affected by the fight-or-flight response controlled by the sympathetic nervous system.
What is the "freeze" response?
When an animal (including human animals) is in a dangerous situation and they cannot fight or flee, they will go into the "freeze" response. For example, a child who is being abused by their parents, cannot fight them and cannot flee because they are dependent. They freeze. They may go numb so as not to feel. This is registered in the autonomic nervous system as helplessness which may carry over into other parts of one's life. The freeze response is associated with trauma.
How does world stress affect my physical and mental health?
Having an over-aroused nervous system has become the norm in our fast-paced, competitive society where we live in a state of constant information overload. Modern society can keep people in a perpetual state of stress (or in the SNS). Our wonderfully adaptive bodies begin to consider a high state of stress in our nervous systems as normal. This situation is difficult to avoid because even people who do not have many personal stressors still experience tension related to world and social conditions.
Unless people know how to release the stress that builds up in their body and mind, there will unquestionably be physical and/or mental damage as a result. It can take the form of high blood pressure, ulcers, anxiety, insomnia, migraine headaches or numerous other disorders.
What is the difference between eustress and distress?
What few of us realize is that a good or positive event can bring as much stress to the body and mind as a bad or negative event. We all know that when someone close to us dies, we experience what we would call a bad stress or distress. But good stressors can affect the body in the same way. For example, perhaps you are getting married and are very excited and happy about it. This can still be a stress even though it is a good stress, or what we call eustress. The body’s physiological response is the same to eustress as it is to distress.
Disease, or dis-ease, comes from being ill at ease in the body and/or mind. When we are not at ease with life we get out of balance. We lose our homeostasis and our innate ability to fight off disease. You may not have considered your headaches, your anxiety, or your insomnia, to be a form of dis-ease, but they unquestionably are.
By now you are probably understanding how stress directly causes disease. Medical biofeedback teaches you how to bring balance back into your life and your nervous system. This balance has far-reaching benefits beyond what you are probably imagining right now.
How do I find someone who is trained in biofeedback to teach me how to control my symptoms?
Go to the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA.org) to look for someone in your area. Anyone certified by this organization has at least a master's degree in a physical or mental health field and has gone on from there to become board certified in biofeedback. Anyone legitimately declaring that they do biofeedback must have a background in both mental and physical health to do this work and will be certified by this organization. Unfortunately, there are people who say they are biofeedback therapists and they are not... so, take caution.