Biofeedback therapy provides stress relief through body function control

Story and photos by Bethany Knipp, NewsNetNebraska

No human can go through his or her lifespan without experiencing stress.  For Bryan Health’s Connie Rose, stress is a full-time job. She helps people cope with theirs.

Biofeedback therapist Connie Rose sets up a machine using computer software designed to measure body functions indicative of patients' stress levels. Rose says knowing which vital signs are abnormal helps patients concentrate on controlling their physiology, which works to mentally relax them.

Biofeedback therapist Connie Rose sets up a machine using computer software designed to measure body functions indicative of patients' stress levels. Rose says knowing which vital signs are abnormal helps patients concentrate on controlling their physiology, which works to mentally relax them.

Rose has been a biofeedback therapist at Bryan’s Counseling Center for 23 years. Before she received a master’s degree in stress physiology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Rose was a chemist. But what she really wanted to study was psycho-physiology. After obtaining her master’s and taking a test, she became biofeedback certified.

Biofeedback therapy is a stress-measuring method where a patient is hooked up to a machine that measures the body’s vital signs.

Rose said the therapy part of biofeedback testing is to see which vital signs – heart rate, finger sweat, temperature, blood pressure, etc. – are not functioning properly and then patients can learn methods to start controlling the body.

When a person is stressed, body functions change depending on the severity of the stressor. Focusing on the body eases stress within the mind, Rose said. That’s because both the stress response and the relaxation response occur under the autonomic nervous system.

“What I tell the patients is if they learn how to relax they won’t be stressed because you can’t be both at the same time.”

By learning to calm down, patients gain a sense of perspective about their problems, helping them cope more effectively, Rose said.

Rose recommended deep breathing, five seconds in and five out, as one mechanism of instant relaxation.

“It’s the best exercise you can use. It’s a little difficult to learn because most Americans don’t take deep breaths, but you can take breaths anywhere,” she said.

Using electrodes on the fingertips, this biofeedback machine measures body functions including sweat, temperature and heart rate.

Using electrodes on the fingertips, this biofeedback machine measures body functions including sweat, temperature and heart rate.

But not all stress is bad, Rose said. Good stress is called eustress where the anxiety is caused by something positive, like the birth of a baby, a promotion or a move.

Bad stress is called chronic stress, where the stress is prolonged and caused by something negative and persistent. Chronic stress causes health problems including ulcers, muscle tension, racing thoughts and increased blood pressure.

Acute stress, Rose said, is a short-term stress a person might feel because of an impending task. She said acute stress could have a negative impact on a person’s health depending on the severity of the short-term stressor. If the acute stress is severe, it could lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There’s also stress caused by not having enough stress, called hypostress, which results when a person is bored. And there’s the opposite, hyperstress, when a person has too much to do beyond levels of regular stress.

For those experiencing hypostress, Rose said a coping mechanism would be volunteering or getting a job. For hyperstressed people, she said extra tasks might have to diminish to obtain balance.

No matter what type of stress someone experiences, the body’s functions will fluctuate with it. Rose said only a couple functions might change or all of them could.

Rose said using biofeedback therapy makes people aware that physiology plays a role in mental health.

“They get a chance to see all of the things they may be experiencing and know that it’s not all in their head,” she said.

 

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