Do you ever feel trapped and overwhelmed by your emotions? Instead of feeling in control, you feel like a hostage to your own emotional reactions. Once your anxiety, anger or fear gets to a certain point you start to look for external sources of soothing. Maybe the coping mechanisms you’ve tried haven’t worked, leaving you less hopeful and less trusting of yourself to manage your emotions. It’s a terrible feeling to feel trapped, stuck and powerless to affect positive change in your emotions. The good news is that you can change these patterns on your own, using your own internal resources.

Emotional self-regulation is the ability to notice what emotion or sensation you are feeling and consciously have an effect on that emotion – calming down when you feel angry for example. It is an invaluable life skill that not many of us are taught. There are two parts - awareness of the emotion and the ability to modulate it. Picking up on the indicators that you’re getting angry is step one. Step two is having the ability to manage your anger enough to express it appropriately or allow it to subside.  Noticing the signs before you’re overwhelmed is essential, and the first place you’ll notice it if you really pay attention is in your body. The trick is how to start tuning into the signals that your body is giving you. That’s where biofeedback comes in.

Biofeedback is the technique of using information from your body in order to affect bodily processes that are typically below our level of awareness. Biofeedback takes something that that is unconscious, like heart rate, and makes it conscious through visual feedback (graph on a computer screen) or audio feedback (sound effect).  By bringing it into your awareness it gives you the opportunity to consciously change it. The feeling of empowerment and hope that can come from improving your ability to regulate your emotions cannot be overstated. It’s a game changer.

You may be thinking at this point – “Ok, but what is biofeedback again?” Good question. Let’s try some examples.  Two common types of biofeedback are neurofeedback and heart rate variability. Neurofeedback is a technique that uses electrical sensors to measure brain wave activity. The client gets audio or visual cues about their brain activity in order to help them regulate their brain function. The therapist typically creates a “map” of the client’s brain in order to choose the best approach. A person who is anxious may have an excess of activity in one part of the brain (measured by the sensors) and every time they decrease the amount of activity in that part of the brain (also measured by the sensors), a bell goes off to let them know they are doing well. The client is likely not aware of how they did it, but they want to get the positive feedback so their brain keeps working to figure out how to get another bell.

Heart rate variability is a technique that measures the small changes in your heart rate from moment to moment using a sensor attached to your ear or finger. It displays this information as a graph, chart or picture on the screen, allowing you to monitor the effects that different thoughts, emotions or states of mind have on your heart rate. As you practice cultivating calm states and positive emotions through breathing exercises and visualizations, your heart rate variability increases. High variability is a strong indicator of overall health.

What are some of the specific benefits of biofeedback? The short answer is that biofeedback helps combat the insidious effects of stress on your body and mind. Specific benefits vary based on the type of biofeedback being used. According to an article from the University of Maryland Medical Center, Biofeedback can be effective in helping people who experience:  ADHD, anxiety, asthma, back pain, bed wetting, chronic pain, constipation, depression, eating disorders, headaches and migraines, head injuries, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), learning disabilities, motion sickness, muscle spasms, sexual disorders, and muscle pain/immobility.  http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/biofeedback

 

Andrew Bednarzik, MA, LPC, uses Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback in his counseling practice. If you would like more information or would like to set up an appointment please contact Andrew at (828) 782-3050 or andrew@porchlightcounselingasheville.com

 

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