Often referred to as “Zen technology,” the practice of consciously controlling one’s heart rate, oxygen intake and body temperature as a technique to soothe anxiety has been around for thousands of years. Now known as biofeedback (it received this name in the 1960s), its roots are in the eastern techniques of yoga and meditation whose goals are also to slow down the autonomic nervous system for healing purposes.
Biofeedback is a method of measuring physiological functions we are not typically aware of (such as skin temperature, muscle tension, or brain waves) and then learning how to control these functions. In a nutshell, biofeedback practitioners develop the ability to listen to their bodies so they can regulate themselves.
The process of biofeedback is noninvasive and involves no medications. In fact, biofeedback sessions are often very relaxing as therapists use deep breathing and guided imagery as techniques to help you slow your functions down. The process involves detecting small changes in your body through electrodes or finger sensors and providing you with visual images (usually on a computer screen) of these changes. Thus, the biological information is “fed back” to you. When you see this information, you can then experiment until you learn to control your biological response.
I am a big fan of biofeedback as I have used it very successfully to treat my anxiety, particularly when it comes to panic. After only three sessions, I was able to slow my heart rate by 20 beats per minute which, of course, is very helpful when I feel an anxiety attack coming on. I was also able to control my air intake such that I could take only four long breaths per minute. This has been my go-to trick when I start hyperventilating—I can really calm myself down fast!
You can find biofeedback kits to use on your own personal computer for around $300, but I personally recommend a few visits to a good therapist instead. The human interaction is so soothing, and figuring out new technology can be very anxiety-provoking!
To find a qualified biofeedback provider in your area, contact the Association for Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback.