Biofeedback is a stress management technique that uses devices that give you information about your body’s physiologic response to stress.
The idea is to provide you with information that would ordinarily be outside of your conscious awareness, such as your body temperature, blood pressure, or heart rate. Generally, there are three stages of biofeedback:
- Developing increased awareness of the body function through use of a device to monitor it
- Learning how to control it the body function
- Learning how to control the function without access to the feedback device
In recent years, research has focused on Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which is a measure of how your pulse speeds up or slows down over time. Traditionally, medical practitioners have measured pulse rate by counting, and will give a pulse rate of, for example, 70 beats per minute. However, this is actually an average, the heart does not normally pump away at exactly the same rate every second. The heart rate varies according to stimulus in the environment, and can actually be very responsive to real-time changes in stimuli.1
Heart Rate Variability is best measured through an ECG conducted in a medical facility, but recently a number of devices and apps have begun coming on the market that can be used at home. All of these have not been rigorously evaluated, but generally, the accuracy and usefulness of the devices seems to be improving.2
One such device that we have had some experience with is called an emWave. It allows the user to track their own HRV, and trains them to increasingly experience a state called “coherence” where the heart rate variability is more rhythmic and stable, resulting in less anxiety, more alertness and better brain function.
Biofeedback has been around for many years, but there continue to be advances in both the understanding of processes and the technology for following them.