Biofeedback does exactly what it says on the tin. It gives feedback on the biological or physical signals of our bodies. Our bodies give off signals all of the time, some of which we can see and some of which we can’t. When stressed, for example, your heart beats faster, your mouth becomes dry and your palms become sweaty. These are the signals that you can see or feel. There are also other bodily signals that occur when we are tense or stressed that are hidden: your blood pressure rises, your body releases chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline and the electrical conductivity of your skin increases. This latter signal is also known as skin conductance or electrodermal activity (EDA). This is the signal that the Pip measures because it is sensitive to even minute changes in stress or tension.
The main function of biofeedback is not the measuring element but the feedback element. Biofeedback essentially opens a window into the hidden signals of your body that allow you to recognise when you are stressed or tense and when you are relaxed. Although most of us would notice if our hearts were pounding wildly and our palms were sweating profusely before a meeting we may be less likely to pay attention to stress when it is hidden, when we are sitting on a bus fretting over work and forgetting to breathe, for example. In these situations it can not only be difficult to recognise stress but to know how to relax. Biofeedback tools let you test out different ways of relaxing and get immediate feedback on whether they really do calm both your body and your mind. This knowledge is a powerful tool to have at your disposal when stress levels start to creep up too high.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. The advantage of tools such as the Pip is that the more knowledge they give you on your body and the more you practice using them, the better you are likely to become at self-soothing and calming yourself. At the start, apps such as Clarity provide guided audio that leads you through relaxation techniques. As you get more proficient at using the Pip you will find out which technique suits you best, or develop your own personal techniques. This means that you can transfer your skills to the other unguided apps and, ultimately, to real world situations. We all get stressed and, as we’ve shown before, not all stress is bad (link to blog here). The challenge is knowing when and how to let stress work to your advantage and when and how to relax again, take a break and recharge the batteries for the next challenge ahead.