If simply holding your breath and counting to 10 isn't easing your tension anymore, biofeedback therapy may help you improve your health by recognizing and changing your reactions to stress.
The causes of stress are often beyond your control, but you can control how you respond. That's the premise behind biofeedback therapy, in which you're trained to monitor your own physiological activity, such as heart rate or muscle tension, in real time in order to learn to control it.
This process has been found to be particularly effective in combating stress, even among soldiers. First, you're taught to identify your physical stress responses - a rapid pulse, for example - and then you learn how to use relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, visualization or meditation, to reduce that response. By helping you see how your body is functioning at any given time, biofeedback can show you the results of a particular relaxation technique - such as your heart rate easing or your muscles relaxing - as you practice it.
Biofeedback therapy involves a series of 30- to 60-minute sessions in which you are attached to sensors that monitor body functions such as muscle tension, skin temperature, perspiration, brain activity and heart rate. A therapist helps you monitor sensations and relax the muscles that cause them to reduce pain. The ultimate goal is to learn how to use these techniques on your own, without the aid of the monitoring system.
To choose a therapist, start by asking your doctor or another health professional with knowledge of biofeedback therapy to recommend someone who has experience treating stress. Although many biofeedback therapists are licensed in another area of healthcare, such as nursing or physical therapy, consider one who is certified by the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (www.bcia.org). To learn more and to find a certified practitioner, visit the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (www.aapb.org).
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