I'm a behavioral neuroscientist by training. This means that when I went to school at UCLA (Go Bruins!) I made it my focus to understand how neurochemical and neurophysical changes in the brain affect the way we interact with the world. At the time, I was primarily interested in how these things relate to addiction, but more and more I feel obligated to share the endless other ways this interaction is crucial for our wellbeing.
You see, everything that happens to us is, at its core, an interaction between the world and our brain in some way. This is true for your ability to read these words, tie your shoelaces, feel depressed or excited and even start walking. But as many of you who are reading these pages know, this world-brain interaction often leaves us wanting more.
Sometimes, there are real problems - like processing difficulties in autism that make interaction with others difficult and life a challenge. At other times the difficulty is more subtle but still troubling - think anxiety that makes driving hard or attention problems that may or may not meet criteria for ADHD. Finally, some of us feel as if we're functioning "fine" but want to do better - we want better sleep, better focus, improved memory and more.
As it currently stands, we primarily turn to medications to address these issues. We take stimulants to help us focus better and work longer; sedatives and hypnotics to help our sleep; anxiolytics to make us calmer. The pills work well enough and we feel like we've licked the problem. But new problems arise...
We become dependent on these medications (there's that addiction link again) and they impact other facets of our functioning that we weren't exactly looking for. They make us lose or gain weight, they leave us feeling groggy, they make us feel depressed and irritable as we're coming down and they cause other side effects that feel unavoidable if we want to address those deficits we care so much about. We wish we could do something else but don't know what, so we keep going for the pills.
This is where biofeedback and neurofeedback can be helpful. For over 40 years technology has allowed practitioners of these techniques to help individuals who are struggling with attention, anxiety, sleep, focus, obsessive thoughts, seizures, irritable bowel syndrome, ADHD, autism, brain injury and more. And these therapies are targeted, hitting the specific problem areas while minimizing collateral impact and side effects. It's like the best kept secret that doesn't need to be a secret at all.
When I was getting my Ph.D., I never heard about biofeedback. It wasn't until I was searching for ways to help my addiction treatment clients that this biofeedback became such a big part of our toolbox. And the reasoning behind it is simple:
Rather than putting chemicals into the body to cause the changes we're looking for, biofeedback subtly teaches the brain (or body) how to produce those effects by itself. Over time, the body begins working in the ways we want it to without needing the help.
The pills produce their effects by changing the body's chemistry. Biofeedback and neurofeedback are like going to the gym - through the work they change the body itself!
Here are the top 5 ways, and the reasons, why biofeedback and neurofeedback should become part of your best kept secret to getting the life you want:
Biofeedback is an incredible tool that I predict will be gaining more and more popularity as the technology gets cheaper and more accessible. As it stands, most of it requires highly trained practitioners and some serious equipment (except for HRV training, which can be done relatively cheaply).
I encourage everyone reading this to being trying some of these alternatives approaches to solving these ultra-common problems. I didn't even address the migraine therapies and autism approaches, both of which are incredibly helpful when addressing these difficult issues. By incorporating biofeedback and neurofeedback into your life, not only will your quality of life likely improve but you will be putting yourself in less risk of overdoses, physical dependence on the drugs and more.