How does stress affect the body?
Changes such as increased blood pressure, increased pulse and respiratory rate, and contraction of muscles occur in the body when it is under stress. This is commonly referred to as the "stress response" or "fight or flight reaction," and is a healthy, normal reaction. However, when the stress response continues unchecked, these changes become harmful, eventually leading to chronic and sustained stress resulting in a variety of illnesses, chronic pain, or both.
Throughout the day, stress may manifest itself in the body by cold hands or tense, aching, and sore muscles, resulting in headache, backache, irritable bowel, etc. Over a period of time tense muscles may develop tender "trigger points" causing pain elsewhere in the body, which is called referred pain. This results in increased tension that in turn increases the pain, perpetuating a vicious cycle of stress and pain.
The more common symptoms of stress include:
- cold hands
- neck and shoulder muscle tension
- unrefreshing, disrupted sleep cycle
- irritability, anxiety, frustration
- difficulty relaxing
- difficulty concentrating
- short-term memory problems
- feeling easily fatigued
- changes in weight
- changes in appetite
- excessive perspiration
- skin outbreaks
- heart palpitations
- recurrent flu and colds
- overreacting to minor problems
- unable to experience joy
How biofeedback helps
Biofeedback helps you to develop an awareness of the changes in your body when you are under stress. For example, you may notice that your hands are cold or that you have butterflies or knots in your stomach. Or you may feel tightness in your jaw, neck, shoulders, or chest. The equipment used in biofeedback treatment provides you with constant, moment-to-moment information about what is going on in your body as you practice relaxation techniques.
Once a technique is learned, you will become aware of the subtle signals of tension in your body by practicing quick body scanning. This information enables you to take necessary measures to reduce, eliminate, and prevent the tension from being stored in your body. The more tense a muscle is, the more time it will take for it to relax and return to its original state. The longer a symptom has persisted, the longer it may take to bring that symptom under control.