How Biofeedback Helps Anxiety

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • You can control certain bodily functions and movements. You can lift up your arm, smile, raise your eyebrows, slowly breath in and out, put one foot in front of the other to walk. But there are others that are involuntary. You don’t consciously control the rate of your heartbeat or your blood pressure even though these often increase when you experience anxiety. Biofeedback is an alternative treatments which helps you learn to control these bodily functions as well, helping you relax and control your anxiety.

    What the Research Says

    A study completed in 2008 and published in the journal Applied Psychophysiol Biofeedback looked at anxiety levels of 24 participants both before and after receiving biofeedback. The study found that three-fourths of the participants reported their stress levels decreased and 80 percent indicated relaxation levels increased. A large majority (between 73 and 78 percent) found using biofeedback more helpful than breathing techniques, exercise and meditation. While this study was small and therefore limited, it is encouraging as many of the participants reported their anxiety levels remained lower six weeks after the study.

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    How Biofeedback Works

    Biofeedback allows you to view the physiological symptoms that often accompany anxiety. A visual display lets you see your heart rate, whether breathing is shallow, rapid breathing, skin temperature, muscle tension and brain activity. Electrodes attached to your skin send information to the device, giving you “real time” bodily responses to stress.

    Using different relaxation techniques, you immediately see which techniques work. Your therapist may use:

    As you use each technique, feedback on the screen lets you see your heart rate, breathing or blood pressure lower. You may see that certain techniques lower certain bodily functions, while others work on different areas.

    Length of Treatment

    Generally, biofeedback sessions are about 30 minutes. You often see results after about 10 sessions, although it can take up to 20 sessions, depending on your situation. After treatment, you will be more aware of the physiological responses to anxiety and know how to use your mind to control these symptoms, helping you to feel more relaxed and less anxious.

    Additional therapy methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy are sometimes used in conjunction with biofeedback. For example, you may have a fear, or phobia, of dogs. Biofeedback can be used to monitor exposure therapies and measure your anxiety levels during the therapy. Adding the relaxation techniques to the exposure therapy increases your ability to overcome phobias or fears about certain situations.


    “Integrating a Portable Biofeedback Device into Clinical Practice for Patients with ANxiety Disorders: Results of a Pilot Study,” 2008, Robert Reiner, Applied Psychophysiol Biofeedback

Published On: January 14, 2014