Biofeedback is a technique of monitoring certain bodily functions so as to allow improved control over these bodily functions. In terms of relaxation training, it is one of the best and most objective ways of evaluating and treating stress and anxiety by facilitating the development of a strong relaxation response. It generally consists of somewhat sensitive electronic equipment that measures various bodily functions. One of the most common is electromyographic biofeedback (EMG). With this device one puts surface electrodes over muscles in various parts of the body. Depending upon the particular problem, a certain level of muscular activity is read on the machine one way or another. This feedback is from a bodily function and is called biofeedback. There may be a screen showing squiggly lines that increase with increased muscular activity or it may be an audible sound that becomes more high frequency as there is an increase in muscular activity.
For example, with tension muscular headaches of the frontalis muscle, that is the muscle in the front of the forehead, there is involuntary muscle tension. This tension in the muscle can be seen or heard on the electromyographic biofeedback equipment and this feedback allows the person to learn control and to relax that muscle. The relaxation response is facilitated by the fact that there is an objective identification of the level of muscular tension and therefore when relaxation occurs there is also an immediate biofeedback that the muscular tension is decreasing. This immediate biofeedback allows the person to improve the relaxation response. Relax the muscular tension and the headache disappears.
The biofeedback machine does not do anything to the muscle, it just simply gives us a feedback mechanism to let us know when there is electrical activity in the muscle, i.e. muscular tension. In the case of a tension headache, when it is learned how to release the tension, that is, to relax, the muscular tension headache diminishes and resolves.
There are many other types of biofeedback instruments or devices that measure different biological parameters. Everyone has heard of a lie detector (polygraph). What a lie detector is, is a biofeedback system that generally analyzes several different bodily functions. Some of these functions might be, for example, galvanic skin resistance which is a measure of blood circulation, perspiration, blood pressure, breathing rate, heart rate, pupillary dilation, to name only a few of the potential sources of biofeedback.
Biofeedback can be a tremendous help in relaxation training and ultimately in the development of a strong relaxation response. A strong relaxation response is the best cure for stress and anxiety.
Different types of biofeedback machines are available through medical supply stores. I encourage you to investigate the possibilities and set up a program with your physician or a trained therapist, as this is one way that you can take control, on your way to a more relaxed lifestyle.