Think back to just a decade ago. The smartphone was relatively new, and wearable tech, such as the smartwatch or FitBit, was just a fantasy. Today, most of the world’s population uses a smartphone (6 billion mobile phone plans globally!) and most of our everyday activities are done at home, with smart devices. The same goes for biofeedback. Once, biofeedback was limited to clinical settings – you had to see a doctor or biofeedback therapist with highly-specialized and very expensive equipment. Now? There are several at-home biofeedback devices on the market, so people all over the world who are interested in trying out biofeedback on themselves, in the comfort of home, can actually do so. If you’re one of those people, keep reading. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at biofeedback uses, benefits, and what you need to know before buying an at-home biofeedback device.
Biofeedback and Your Health
Biofeedback is a mind-body therapy that helps you identify various physiological changes as they occur in response to different stressors and situations. By being able to recognize them, you can learn to control them, leading to reduced stress and anxiety, and improved health and wellbeing. During biofeedback, you are connected via skin sensors to a device that measures certain physiological markers, such as heart rate, muscle tension and breathing patterns. These measurements are displayed on the biofeedback device in various visual and auditory ways. Either by yourself or with a therapist, you complete different relaxation exercises and receive immediate feedback from the device about involuntary physiological responses. For example, a slowing heart rate may be indicated by a slowing musical rhythm, or a light turns from red to blue to show that your brain wave activity has calmed. The goal of biofeedback is to achieve small, subtle changes in the mind-body connection that help you cope with the symptoms of stress, by relaxing your body and practicing mindfulness. An at-home biofeedback device is a training tool to help you practice mindfulness with or without meditation so that you can maintain your health and wellbeing during the everyday challenges and stress of life.
Types of Biofeedback
There are several biofeedback techniques that are used in clinical settings. Many of these can also be done by yourself, thanks to the range of at-home biofeedback devices that are becoming more sophisticated and accurate. The most common types of biofeedback include:
- Thermal biofeedback: body temperature
- Heart rate variability: variations in the time between heartbeats
- Neurofeedback or Electromyography (EEG): brain waves
- Blood pressure biofeedback
- Galvanic skin response: miniscule changes in the sweat response
- Respiratory response: breathing rate
At-home biofeedback devices may offer one or more of the above biofeedback methods. Biofeedback devices for at-home use come in several different forms:
- Wearable devices such as watches, headbands, patches, and more
- Handheld devices
- Portable devices
- Interactive video games
Choosing the right biofeedback method or device for you will depend on your goals.
What Are the Benefits of Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a powerful tool to help manage stress and thereby improve a range of physical and emotional or mental issues. It offers several important benefits in contrast to other forms of therapy.
- Biofeedback does not rely on medications.
Biofeedback therapy does not require you to take any medications. This means it can be done in conjunction with other medical or alternative therapeutics without any concern. For people who cannot or don’t want to take medication, it may be an effective option.
- There are no side effects.
Biofeedback is widely regarded as safe for everyone and does not have any side effects. This makes it a great choice for people of all ages without any risk. Also, it is non-invasive, only requiring external application of sensors on different parts of the body. This is completely painless and safe.
- Biofeedback is versatile for many health and wellbeing issues.
Biofeedback offers several different techniques and methods, meaning it can be applied to your specific goals and needs. For example, biofeedback is a proven method for learning how to cope with feelings of stress and anxiety, managing ADHD, improving athletic performance, reducing chronic pain, and much more.
Is Biofeedback Evidence-Based?
Biofeedback was first introduced as a concept in 1969. In the fifty years since it has been thoroughly tested in clinical settings, and various studies have shown its effectiveness for treating different problems. For example, biofeedback training is scientifically proven effective in reducing stress and improving migraine. In addition, a review of the literature shows that biofeedback may help with severe PTSD. The clinical research on biofeedback is ongoing and continues to show that for many mind-body concerns, biofeedback is indeed an effective and proven therapy option.
Can I Do Biofeedback at Home?
Biofeedback requires the use of sensitive equipment for accurate physiological measurement and tracking. For this reason, biofeedback was generally only available in clinical settings. Not anymore! With advances in technology for personal use, more at-home biofeedback devices are becoming available, making it entirely possible to do “self-biofeedback” and get the benefits in your own space and time.
Medical Uses of At-Home Biofeedback Devices
At-home biofeedback devices can be used as a therapy option for treating a range of medical issues. Because biofeedback is safe and has no side effects, it can be used in addition to prescription medications or other medical treatments. Some of the medical uses of at-home biofeedback devices include:
- Blood pressure
- Muscle rehabilitation after injury
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Heart arrhythmia
- And more.
Depending on the type of at-home biofeedback device and treatment, during the session, one or more of the following physiological markers may be measured and tracked: Heart rate: Using a finger or earlobe sensor, the device detects changes in blood volume and calculates the heart rate. Muscle contractions: Sensors are placed over the skeletal muscles to monitor the electrical activity that causes minor involuntary contractions and tension. Galvanic sweat response: Sensors on the fingers, palm, or wrist detect miniscule changes in the amount of sweat on the skin. Breathing: Bands placed around the chest and abdomen measure changes in breathing rate. Body temperature: Using sensors on the fingers or feet, blood flow is measured to determine a drop in temperature. In addition to medical uses, at-home biofeedback training can be used to help manage a variety of mental or emotional issues, such as:
- Stress or anxiety
- Chronic pain
- And more.
Benefits of Using a Biofeedback Device
Taking control of your health and wellness is the most obvious benefit of using an at-home biofeedback device. However, compared to clinical sessions, at-home devices offer two unique advantages. First, clinical biofeedback therapy can range from $35 to $85 per session, depending on the type of therapy and the qualifications of the biofeedback therapist. For many people, this is not an affordable option. While an at-home biofeedback device can range from $20 to $1,000, some of the best devices are in the $200 range, making them far more accessible. Plus, it is a one-time purchase that you can use for many years, giving you more value for money in the long term. Secondly, a portable at-home biofeedback device offers the flexibility and convenience to do biofeedback at your own pace, whenever is convenient for you and in the comfort of your own home. With an at-home device, you can also integrate biofeedback into your existing wellness routine. For instance, if you meditate regularly, you can use an at-home biofeedback device to get even more from the practice.
What to Consider Before You Buy an At-Home Biofeedback Device
Before you invest in an at-home biofeedback device, here are some things to consider: Know your goals. The type of at-home biofeedback device you need will depend mostly on what you want to achieve from the therapy. Are you looking for:
- Relief from anxiety or stress?
- Help with pain management?
- Better meditation practice?
- Improved concentration?
The device must provide the measurement capabilities for the physiological marker that you want to track. Deciding what you hope to accomplish with your at-home biofeedback device before you buy will guide you toward choosing the best one for you. Ease of use. Any device that is easy to use will naturally fit better into your lifestyle and routine. For example, when using the Reflect Orb, simply place your hands on the orb and start gathering biofeedback. This simplicity makes it easier to include biofeedback as part of your routine and stick to it. Cost vs function. Not all devices are created equal. Always do a little research and examine the claims being made before you buy. You don’t want to waste money on a device that isn’t suited to your needs, and therefore won’t have the capabilities to help you achieve your desired outcome.
5 At-Home Biofeedback Devices
Doing biofeedback at home, on your own, is becoming a popular choice for people who are interested in the benefits of biofeedback therapy. Thanks to this increase in demand (and advances in technology), many at-home biofeedback devices are becoming available on the market, each with different functions, features and capabilities. Here are 5 examples of effective at-home biofeedback devices and what you can expect from each.
#1: Reflect Orbbiofeedback device
The Reflect Orb is an at-home biofeedback device that connects to an app to track your journey and help you to understand the effects of your practice. The orb is fully portable and uses HRV (heart rate variability) and EDA (electrodermal activity) measurements that are taken through your fingers while holding the Orb. The soft, round device changes color in response to your stress levels, guiding you toward a calmer state while the app tracks and analyzes your progress. The Reflect App will also give users meditation reminders and relaxation tips to help support you on your wellness journey. You can purchase the Reflect Orb and App for $199.00.
#2: The Muse Headband
The Muse headband uses EEG (Electromyography) to sense your brain activity and guide it toward calm and focus. Muse connects to your mobile device via Bluetooth. During meditation, the Muse app will track your session and when your mind is calm you’ll hear peaceful weather sounds. But when your mind is active or you’re not focused on the meditation, you’ll hear stormy weather to remind you to return your attention to your breath. You can review your results and track your progress via the app through a series of graphs and charts. You can monitor your heart, breathing, and brain activity in real-time with Muse. Muse headbands range from $249.00 to $409.99 and have various accessories available for sale as well.
#3: The EmWave2
The EmWave2 is a portable at-home biofeedback device that connects to your computer and uses heart rate variability (HRV) measurements to track subtle changes in your heart rate. The device monitors coherence, a state of synchronization between the nervous system, brain, and heart. Coherence can help improve emotional health and wellbeing, as well as performance. When your body is under stress, heart-rhythm patterns may become irregular, which can impact your brain function and wellbeing. Positive emotions promote a more coherent and ordered heart pattern. EmWave2 is aimed at promoting sleep, relaxation, and focus, and ranges from $229.00 to $249.00.
#4: Unyte iom2
Via an ear clip, Unyte iom2 utilizes HRV to measure what they call your Resonance score – a reflection of your state of relaxation or stress. Paired with interactive meditations, called Journeys, the iom2 helps users gain awareness of their physical state and thoughts while guiding them through deeper meditations. The interactive meditations also include a customizable breathing indicator that guides users toward their optimum breathing rate. Unyte iom2 is compatible with computer, tablet, or smartphone and includes a web-based dashboard that tracks usage and progress. Unyte iom2 device can be purchased for $199.99 with an annual subscription of $59.99 to Journeys, or as a lifetime bundle that includes everything for $349.99
#5: Interactive Video Games
Numerous biofeedback video games have been introduced to the market in recent years for adults, teens and kids. These are an engaging and enjoyable way to do biofeedback at home. Studies of interactive video games that integrate biofeedback techniques have been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety. Some example of biofeedback video games include:
- StressJam; and