- Created on Tuesday, 19 June 2012
- Written by Anna Mitchell
I had a client ask me lately, "How do I know if these mental skills are working?" This is a great question and the reason that many people become frustrated with mental skill development training. The results can be measured through improved performance; however, this can take time and become very frustrating with little sign of progress.
When we make a decision to improve our physical fitness or physique, we increase our efforts to workout with cardio and weight-bearing exercises. Over time, we can see the results in the mirror and in other's appreciations of our efforts. Unfortunately, mental skills are a silent ally. Like physical development, mental development takes time and repetition. It is harder, however, to see the progress in mental skill development along the way.
Many of us prefer instant gratification, which explains why so many people sign up to gyms all over the country with a new year's resolution to finally get back in shape only to drop out a couple of weeks or months later. We become frustrated with the lack of obvious and immediate results.
So if people become discouraged so quickly with physical development, no wonder it is so difficult to stick to a mental skill development program, which takes just as much work and persistence with a lot less validation along the way.
Enter … Biofeedback. Sport psychologists use biofeedback to help clients become more in tune with their bodies and responses.
l Biofeedback (BF) is a training technique in which one uses signals from his/her body to:
– Decrease symptoms (e.g., headaches)
– Improve health (e.g., decrease BP)
– Improve performance (e.g., athletic performance)
l BF involves use of equipment to reflect the physical state of the individual (e.g. scale, heart rate monitor etc).
l The therapist helps the individual learn techniques to regulate the bodily systems.
l Teaches physical awareness, and voluntary control over the body's systems (i.e. “self-regulation”)
l Biofeedback is painless and non-invasive.
l Biofeedback should be performed by a trained biofeedback therapist, preferably one with certification credentials and who is a licensed health professional.
So what does biofeedback measure?
l Skin temperature
l Muscle tension (EMG/electromyography)
l Heart rate or Heart rate variability
l Sweat gland activity
l Brain wave activity (EEG/electroencephalography)
l Blood flow
BF enables an athlete to receive immediate feedback on their physiological responses to various mental states. Research has shown that BF is very effective in helping athletes learn how to control their anxiety levels. Athlete's are able to see the immediate results of using relaxation and anxiety management techniques on their physiological states. This way they are able to learn what techniques work best for them and put them into action in their preparation and performance routines rather than having to use the old trial and error method that the rest of us have to resort to.
A body's natural response to stress or anxiety is an increase in heart and/or respiration rate. To use BF for anxiety management the therapist would first measure the athlete's heart or respiration rate at a rest state. This is the baseline or 'normal' state. Then the client would be evoked to a state of anxiety possibly through a guided imagery exercise and then the heart and/or respiration rates would be measured again. Differences are noted.
Next step is to have the client use various anxiety management techniques as the heart and/or respiration rates are continued to be measured. Those techniques that cause a reduction in physiological arousal would be considered effective management techniques for this particular client.If you would like some more information on this topic or some help to locate a qualified biofeedback therapist near you please contact me directly.