What is Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback?
If a doctor told you that your pulse was 60 beats a minute, and that your heart beat exactly once a second, just like a metronome, would you think that was a good thing,
Steady as a clock, I must be in great shape!?
As it turns out, in this case such regularity would actually indicate very low heart rate variability, a clinical sign that you were probably under a great deal of stress and that your body was not well equipped to handle it.
The rhythm of a healthy heart constantly changes, with the time interval between heartbeats changing from beat to beat. A high heart rate variability is associated with better resiliency and overall health and longevity.
Your heart rate is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which has two major components: the sympathetic nervous system which is involved in energy activation (like stepping on the gas) and the parasympathetic system, which acts like a more slowly activated dampening system (like applying the brakes).
Stress and negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear and depression tend to have similar impacts on the cardiovascular system - they reduce heart rate variability by excessively activating the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Not enough help from the parasympathetic nervous system is received to calm things down and bring them back into balance.
Positive emotions increase heart rate variability and also lead to psychophysiological coherence, which represents increased order and harmony in both one’s psychological, emotional and physiological functioning.
How does Heart Rate Variability biofeedback work?
A small sensor is placed on one of your fingers or on an earlobe which measures the moment-to-moment variation in your heart rate. The output is displayed on a computer monitor for you to watch. You are able to watch in real time how your thoughts and emotions affect your physiology!
I instruct you in breathing techniques and also teach you how to slow down your thoughts to help bring you into a state of higher overall coherence, resulting in higher heart rate variability. Focusing on positive feelings and emotions also help increase your heart rate variability. You are encouraged to practice these techniques between sessions to maximize your progress.
What conditions can Heart Rate Variability biofeedback help with?
Research and clinical case histories indicate that Heart Rate Variability training has been shown to help reduce high blood pressure, slow overly fast heart rates, decrease the frequencies of heart arrhythmias, improve immune system function, reduce symptoms of irritable bowel and severity of asthma attacks, and improve the balance of the autonomic nervous system. This training is also effective in helping persons with insomnia, anxiety disorders and panic attacks.