It's not exactly news that chronic stress is bad for you. And stress management is a huge topic that Crabby needs to remember to address more. Because here at Cranky Fitness, we hate stress!
But rather than starting off by discussing the basics of Stress and Stress Management and then proceeding from there in a logical and organized fashion, Crabby would rather jump in randomly and talk about biofeedback today. And then perhaps later she will jump in randomly again and talk about some other aspect of Stress Management that appeals to her.
Good thing Cranky Fitness is a health blog and not a text book! It's much more fun to start at Chapter Thirty Eight than back at Chapter One where all the boring basics are.
If you would like to know more about stress management and don't want to wait six or seven years for Crabby to get around to all of it, there is a ton of information on it, both on the web and at your local independent bookstore (or, if you don't have one, perhaps your favorite online source for books whatever that might be). Here is just one tiny little Stress Management Article from WebMD, which is so basic as to not be actually all that helpful, but it will start you off. As for books, Crabby likes a Cognitive/Behavioral Approach, but any big fat book written by respectable people as opposed to loonies will do. There are a lot of basic techniques that everyone seems to know and agree on, and it's all pretty helpful. Smart Readers may have favorites they think highly of.
But back to biofeedback, which is one way to help control stress. Basically, instead of being oblivious to all the crazy sh*t your body may be doing all day long, you get actual physiological "feedback" and then use that to train your body to chill a bit more. This is not the technical definition of Biofeedback, but it will do for now. (There's a more authoritative definition here, which seems to be some sort of government sponsored Medical Encyclopedia. Whatever.)
Traditionally, people did Biofeedback by going to some sort of professional office or Biofeedback Center, where Specially Trained Practitioners would hook them up to Big Machines that would measure physiological signs of stress. Weirdly enough, by monitoring this feedback, and playing around with breathing and relaxation techniques and positive thoughts and whatnot, people could learn to control the physiological reactions their bodies were having. Serious yoga and meditation people seem to already know how to do this, but for the rest of us, it helps to see very concretely the impact that varying relaxation techniques can have.
But of course any time you have Specially Trained Practitioners and Big Expensive Machines, things tend to get expensive. You need multiple sessions over many weeks. A great idea, but not everyone could afford it.
Now however, they've figured out how to make some of the most basic technology cheaper, so you can do it yourself, at home, as often as you need to.
Some of them are even video games. And as it happens, Crabby bought one herself a year or so ago. Now that she has a health blog, she might as well tell you about it.
It was called Journey to the Wild Devine, which seemed like a doofy name. But it was fun! Crabby is not generally a player of video games, and she was quite absorbed with it while she was playing it. There were lots of pretty places to explore, and mysteries to solve and tasks to perform. It was a lot more visually sophisticated than Crabby was expecting. Also, you accomplished all these tasks not by getting all hyper and vigilant, but mostly by the opposite.
The game came with little thingies you put on your fingers to measure skin conductivity level and heart rate. By learning to slow these down or speed them up with your breathing, you make your way through the game. Crabby was so thrilled every time she mastered something! It was quite exciting, in a mellow new-age sort of way.
And did it help with Stress Management? Um, well, she thinks it did, but she really can't remember. This is why Crabby will never have a big future as a Product Reviewer! After she got through all the steps she sort of stopped playing it, and meant to order the next game when it came out since the last one was so much fun, but never got around to it. On the other hand, she hasn't been under much stress so she doesn't really need it anymore.
Though the game may be a deal compared to professional biofeedback clinics, it's still expensive for a game. The whole bundle is around $200, for the sensors and the game that Crabby played and the next one after that Crabby hasn't tried yet. And about $150 you just want the first game.
(And while it might be available on Amazon, Crabby is not going to be quite so crass and whorish as to put in an ad for it here. At least not until way later when it's buried in the archives and only the Googlers will see it. She imagines they will be quite motivated to purchase it, too, with Crabby's compelling endorsement: "Um, I think it helped with stress management, but I don't really remember. And it was kind of expensive. But, well, it was really fun!")
Want to know an even cheaper biofeedback device? Consider your heart rate monitor if you already have one for your cardio. Because you can wear it during the day to work every now and then and notice in real time when your pulse rate gets elevated. Sometimes it's running for the bus, not stress, but other times it can be quite revealing. What are you thinking about when your pulse starts racing? What's happening around you? There's some very interesting data if you want to pursue it. And then you can take calming breaths or other steps to relax yourself until you see it going down again.
(Or you can measure your pulse yourself for free, just using your finger and a watch. But would you in the middle of a staff meeting? A quick glance down at your wrist is a bit less conspicuous).
So does anyone have any experience with biofeedback, or new-agey video games, or any thoughts or recommendations for stress management generally? Crabby promises there will be plenty more on this topic later, in no particular order of course.