If you’ve never heard of it, biofeedback is a type of therapy where the individual focuses becoming self aware of physiological functions and reactions with the goal of being able to control certain bodily functions. Sometimes this is achieved with the help of equipment to give the individual something to focus on during a session. A good example of biofeedback is learning how to control your breathing to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. This can have many uses, such as during an AFib episode or if you are stressing out over an impending deadline at work. Biofeedback can also assist with relaxing muscles, which can be of great benefit to those of us suffering with Atrial Fibrillation.
Most biofeedback sessions I’ve been a part of are facilitated by an expert in the field, normally a psychologist or licensed physician, and are a goal oriented experience. For example, in the breathing exercise outlined earlier the group could have the goal of learning deep breathing to control heart rate and blood pressure. I’ve also been a part of sessions for progressive muscle relaxation to help participants identify stress in the body and learn how to release it. However, there are many different types of biofeedback that can be used to monitor different bodily functions. So if you are curious about if this type of treatment is right for you, I would suggest reaching out to your primary care physician or cardiologist to find a professional that they know or can recommend. The great thing about biofeedback sessions is that the information you learn in a few sessions can be utilized for the rest of your life. The deep breathing process I learned in my sessions can be used in the car, in the shower, or even when I’m on the phone.
One of the reasons biofeedback works so well for people with heart conditions is that it increases parasympathetic activity, and can lower heart rate. Remember, the parasympathetic system controls the involuntary nervous systems of the body, such as the heart or intestines. If you’ve forgotten the difference between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system, think of it this way: the sympathetic nervous system controls your fight or flight response- it gets the body through emergency situations- while the parasympathetic nervous system maintains bodily functions when you are at rest. I like to think of it this way, if I needed to run away from a mountain lion, I would be relying on my sympathetic nervous system to get me to safety. However, if I’m soaking in the bathtub, then my parasympathetic nervous system is working to keep my body in balance while I’m at rest.
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