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 change 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.
Heart rate variability is the type of Biofeedback that I use in my practice. It’s 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.
How does biofeedback look during a session? The first 15 – 20 minutes of the session would be heart rate variability ‘mini-session’. You hook up a clip (heart rate monitor) to your ear. This connects to a laptop that interprets the information its getting and gives you feedback on the screen in the form of a graph, picture or game. You practice specific deep breathing exercises while either closing your eyes or watching the screen. After this we discuss the heart rate variability session briefly before moving on with the session.
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. It 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 (According to an article from the University of Maryland Medical Center, Biofeedback).