An Introduction to Biofeedback Stress Management / Training
Stress, or rather a stress response, isn't a bad thing. Our physiological response to stress is what has allowed humans to evolve, grow and survive over the centuries. Many people know this as a 'fight or flight' response. The problem is that the types and frequency of the stress we put ourselves under is having an accumulative effect. Without adequate time to regenerate, recover, and relax our sympathetic nervous system is nearly continuously activated. This, over time leads to health problems - serious health problems. Although we know it originates in our mind as mental or emotional, it has a real and significant negative impact on our physical health. The mind and body are often described as separate "things" and yet one always affects the other. Biofeedback techniques for stress brings this connection much more into our conscious awareness.
Chronic stress often results in a broad range of symptoms including; high blood pressure, tension headaches and migraine, panic attacks, problems with concentration, hypertension, sleep problems, burn out and depression. All of our key body systems can be affected by stress and its easy to neglect the things we can't see for the things we can! We need to make sure we address the behaviour as well as the physical symptoms. This is where Biofeedback helps by connecting both the physiological and psychological components of health.
Can we measure stress?
No. And, yes!
As stress originates in the mind we can't really measure it directly. However, we can measure it indirectly through the body's physiological responses.
We know that (as with many systems and process in the body) our physiological processes start with a baseline, become 'activated' by a stressor, and then regenerate or relax back to our baseline. We also know that we can measure these processes using effective biofeedback sensors eg. Blood Volume Pulse, Skin Conductance, Temperature, Respiration and more. In this way we are able to 'see' the effect stress has on our body.
How we use Biofeedback in Stress Management
A psychophysiological stress test measures the physiological states during the baseline, activation and regeneration phases. The computer will continuously monitor a number of physiological signals while generating various stimuli designed to elicit a stress response, and then to relax. Once an assessment is complete a trained clinician can interpret the results.
A healthy response would be to see the three distinct phases of Baseline, Activation and Regeneration across the signals. However, you may see a prolonged response (an inability to recover, or a very slow recovery) or an inadequate response (a very low change across the phases). You might even see good recovery in some signals, but inadequate recovery in others. Any of these responses would suggest that the client would benefit from biofeedback training.
By using Biofeedback, the client can visualise the physiological processes that are happening inside the body and build an awareness of exactly what is out of balance. This feedback gives the trainee leverage to learn how to have greater awareness and control of their own response to stress. With repeated practice, over time the equipment is not needed.
Why use the NeXus Systems in Stress Management?
In short, the NeXus system is quick to use, easy to setup, records reliable signals, and offers the best client experience.
BioTrace+ software (included with every system) enables you to set up and work with your client in minutes. As standard we include:
- 6 minute Stress Test Protocol
- 15 minute Stress Test Protocol
- Customisable Stress Test Screen
You can measure 4 physiological signals, EMG, add markers without interrupting the session and interact with your client. The client is guided through the protocol via your secondary screen - so they don't have to see the information that you do. Once you have completed the stress test you can analyse the session and make a decision as to which physiological responses would benefit from training.
In a clinical setting we would usually recommend the NeXus 10 for stress management monitoring and training. With the ability to simultaneously record up to 10 physiological signals, this system offers the most comprehensive package and widest range of configurations for physiological monitoring.
The sensors we include as standard for a stress package are:
- Blood Volume Pulse
- Galvanic Skin Response
- EMG (shoulder tension)
There are individual training screens for each physiological sensor, which are fully customisable by the clinician. You can decide on the amount and type of information that you want to see, and the type of feedback or guidance you would like your client to see eg. animations or games, breathing pacer, threshold monitor etc. All of the sessions are stored within the client's own profile so it is easy to store, recall previous sessions, and track progress.
You can find further reading about biofeedback and stress in the following studies and thesis:
Walking versus biofeedback: a comparison of acute interventions for stressed students
Meier NF , Welch AS, 2015, Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, Iowa State University & Johnson State College
Insightful stress detection from physiology modalities using Learning Vector Quantization
De Vries JJG, Pauws SC, Biehl M, 2015 Neurocomputing, Philips Research-Healthcare & University of Groningen
The effects of acute self-paced exercise and respiration biofeedback on anxiety and affect in high-stress university students
Meier N, 2013, Graduate Theses and Dissertations. Paper 13164, Iowa State University
Stress, uncertainty and decision confidence.
Heereman J, Walla P, 2011, Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Vienna University
Computer Animated Relaxation Therapy in Children Between 7 and 13 Years with Tension-Type Headache: A Pilot Study.
Tornoe B, Skov L, 2012, Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback
Effects of Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia Biofeedback Versus Passive Biofeedback Control,
Sherlin L, Gevirtz R, Wyckoff S, Muench F, 2009 International Journal of Stress Management, Alliant University