When your body goes into stress-response mode, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This is known as your fight or flight instinct: based on a hormonal trigger, your pupils dilate, you start sweating, and your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure all spike. 
The sympathetic nervous system’s response serves an important evolutionary purpose, but when it is triggered day in and day out, – like in cases of chronic stress – it can have exceptional wear and tear on the body.
But what if there was a way to control our automatic body functions? In doing so, we could become more stress-resilient, improve our mental and physical performance, and target symptoms of mental illnesses.
Many medications have tried to accomplish this goal, with variant degrees of success. But medications carry side effects, and the body can grow reliant on medication over time.
Thankfully, there’s a medication-free method to train your body’s responses with clinically proven results: it’s called biofeedback, and it can change your life.
What is Biofeedback?
Imagine playing an arcade game. Seriously. Let’s say it’s Pacman.
A biofeedback therapist will connect sensors to track involuntary body metrics such as heart rate or brainwaves. After establishing baselines, the therapist will set up the training game.
Pacman will only move forward and eat the dots if your metrics are at the desired level – for example, if your goal is to lower your resting heart rate, the game will run when your HR drops to a certain point.
As you move through the game and start winning, your brain is given reward feedback, such as points or victory noises. However, when your heart rate raises or you begin to stress out, the game shuts down. It doesn’t come back on until your heart rate drops to the threshold.
Over time, your brain begins to seek out the rewards and subconsciously lowers your heart rate to receive them. It’s a positive feedback loop. 
Although biofeedback isn’t considered a treatment, but rather a training tool, it is used in a variety of clinical settings.
Photo by Tokyo Luv on Unsplash
How Can Biofeedback Help Me?
Reducing Migraines: Researchers have found that biofeedback training works as a successful treatment for stress-reduced migraines. If you are looking for an alternative to using pain medication for another work-triggered headache, consider a neurofeedback device!  
Increasing Focus: Neurofeedback has also been used to treat ADHD in a clinical study with children. Even if you don’t suffer from attention deficit disorder, training your prefrontal cortex to have a higher activity level can improve your ability to focus on a task for longer periods of time. 
Subsiding Anxiety: Simple HRV training can help make you more aware of your body’s stress response.  Over time, you can work to change it and calm yourself down in stressful situations. For more information on HRV, see Project X Factor’s other posts.
Biofeedback at Home
If you’re not interested in going to a therapist for biofeedback training, there are affordable at-home devices on the market. Search ‘at home biofeedback’ to find a tool that will fit your needs!
Arena, J. G., G. M. Bruno, S. L. Hannah, and K. J. Meador. “A Comparison of Frontal Electromyographic Biofeedback Training, Trapezius Electromyographic Biofeedback Training, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy in the Treatment of Tension Headache.” Headache 35, no. 7 (August 1995): 411–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4610.1995.hed3507411.x.
“Biofeedback Therapy: How It Works and Uses,” August 8, 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265802.
Monastra, Vincent J., Steven Lynn, Michael Linden, Joel F. Lubar, John Gruzelier, and Theodore J. LaVaque. “Electroencephalographic Biofeedback in the Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback 30, no. 2 (June 2005): 95–114. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-005-4305-x.
Optimal Living Dynamics. “Neurofeedback: The Revolutionary Therapy That Healed My Mental Illness.” Accessed August 18, 2020. https://www.optimallivingdynamics.com/blog/the-revolutionary-video-game-that-healed-my-mental-illness.
ScienceDaily. “Sympathetic Nervous System.” Accessed August 18, 2020. https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/sympathetic_nervous_system.htm.
 “Sympathetic Nervous System,” ScienceDaily, accessed August 18, 2020, https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/sympathetic_nervous_system.htm.  “Neurofeedback: The Revolutionary Therapy That Healed My Mental Illness,” Optimal Living Dynamics, accessed August 18, 2020, https://www.optimallivingdynamics.com/blog/the-revolutionary-video-game-that-healed-my-mental-illness.  “Biofeedback Therapy: How It Works and Uses,” August 8, 2018, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265802.  J. G. Arena et al., “A Comparison of Frontal Electromyographic Biofeedback Training, Trapezius Electromyographic Biofeedback Training, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy in the Treatment of Tension Headache,” Headache 35, no. 7 (August 1995): 411–19, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4610.1995.hed3507411.x.  Vincent J. Monastra et al., “Electroencephalographic Biofeedback in the Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback 30, no. 2 (June 2005): 95–114, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10484-005-4305-x.  “Biofeedback Therapy.”