July 10, 2007

Bio-Feedback To Go

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.


  1. "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!")"

    Too funny. I hate reviewing stuff too, or at least I suck at it. That video game sounds very cool.. I play Zelda (Old school 64!) and it relieves stress just as well though maybe. They are starting more and more to experiment with bio-feedback to ease labor pains and some of the research about that looks very positive. The problem is you run into having to have an extra person around (the feedback fellow) when you're in Labor.

    Also, on a safety note: Bio feedback video games sound way safer than other at home stress relievers. My friend got an at home 'shocking massage machine' (see my reviews suck) I don't remember the name, but anyhow he hooked it up, and put it on his wife's back and almost fried the %$#& out of her. Then the thing wouldn't turn off.

    So, kiddos be careful with at home electricity treatments!

  2. Sounds like my kind of game - but you're right its a tad expensive.

    OOOH you have to come by and read up on the Orgasmic Diet -- now I've seen everything! In the name of scientific research I thought it would be something you might be interested in reviewing. And I offer it has a recommended book for your readers.

  3. Exercise is honestly the best stress relief I've found...I'm always happier after (I get the happy endorphin rush) and I can rant off my stress as I run and people just think I'm singing along to my iPod! :)

    Apparently biofeedback works pretty well from what I've read...I just don't have the $$ to try out a home one. Although when I have a small fry I will definitely look into the labor pain relief part of it...

  4. I was never really sure what to think about biofeedback, but y'know, if it works for ya, what the hey.
    Meditation is really good for stress relief, but if you can't get into it, just breathe. A few moments of deep breathing makes you feel better. In a quasi-related matter that's the real reason, apparently, that smoking relieves stress. It's because smokers(I used to be one) draw the smoke way down into their lungs. It's the deep breathing, not the chemicals, that do it.
    I read this nearly 30 years ago so for all I know this wisdom has changed, but somehow I don't think so.
    So get out there and breathe, people. If you don't know how to fill your lungs, go watch a smoker.
    Hmm, how's that for a tip you never thought you'd see?

  5. I remember hearing about that "game" a while ago and being really interested in it. Wish you knew more about if it helped! =P Maybe that is what I need to get for my husband! He comes home from work all angry and stressed out and doesn't know how to unwind, so he decides to play games with guns, blood, and gore. Not the ideal situation, methinks.

  6. Would bio feedback work with a Stat Counter addiction? Or is that aversion therapy that I need!

  7. Jennifer,
    Oh my goodness, I don't think I'll actually try the shocking massager, even for the sake of having something to write about. That's too funny! And I bet you do great reviews.

    Lady Rose,
    "Orgasmic" sounds much more interesting than "Organic" so I will definitely have to check that out!

    Yep exercise is a great stress reliever, especially if your the sort who gets the big endorphin rush! But for people who need a little extra help in addition, I think you're right, biofeedback seems to actually be pretty effective.

    leah, good point- "learn from the smokers" is not usually advice you expect to hear! But in this case, if they know how to do deep breathing, it's a great idea.

    Yeah, sorry to be so unhelpful on the actual stress management part! I think I was doing a bunch of other stuff at the same time, too, further confusing the issue.

    What it was really good for was making time spent relaxing feel as compelling as time spent 'playing,' at least for me. So often it's hard to motivate to do relaxation 'exercises,' and the cool thing about this was that I couldn't wait to get back to play it. I don't know if it would be quite as compelling for a guy accustomed to fast-paced shoot-em-up stuff--but it for me, it was challenging enough and interesting enough to really entice me to spend time slowing down.

    What a great idea! We could hook ourselves up and check our stats, and try to learn not to react not matter how high or low the numbers were. Or maybe your right and Jennifer's shocking device is a better idea after all.

  8. Hi all,

    So as a warning, I'm heading off for a bit, and comments that get left for this post after this point will certainly be read and very much appreciated! But I may not respond to them individually.

    Bye for now,

  9. So, you've now cornered the market on how to stop traffic; just tell everyone you're heading off for a bit ;)

    One of the cool things about your blog is reading the comments - and now look, everyone's on vacation.

  10. Journey to the Wild Devine sounds suspiciously like World of Warcraft. lol! Which is kind of ironic to me, knowing a couple of W.o.W. Widows who would tell you it is a major cause of stress in their home. Although it is an unfair parallel because I believe you do get "all hyper and vigilant" in W.o.W...and there is fighting involved...and it's addicting. So...nevermind.

  11. Exercise, fer sure. Naps. Getting a new boss (if the current boss is a source of stress -- worked wonders for me). Jokes and laughter. And a useful technique, though this works only at a certain level and won't necessarily dissipate major stress: Think Duck. As in water off a duck's back. Let it roll off you. Sometimes the solution to stress is simply to get over your cheap self. Let go of the ego and don't let things bother you so much. Easily said, and easily forgotten in the heat of the moment, but since the ego is so often a central factor in how stress affects us, it could be worth a try.

  12. Hi Crabby,

    Thanks for the great post about biofeedback. I used to have an office and use the expensive equipment to help people with biofeedback. It works very well to help get over the problems caused by chronic stress.

    You have put your finger on a great point. Now, with the improvement in electronics I get to recommend home biofeedback units for the cost of 1 or 2 sessions with a professional. Besides the Journey to Wild Devine there are units that help reduce blood pressure (Resperate), synchronize the heart rate with the relaxed part of the nervous system (emWave and StressEraser) and even teach your nervous system to relax by using the sweat glands on the hands (GSR2). As you pointed out, just like buying and IPod, there is some cost involved but unlimited sessions for a fixed cost is a big plus.

    And, as Leah pointed, out slow deep breathing is excellent for stress relief (and it's free). This is actually what the Resperate teaches when it helps lower the blood pressure. Slow deep breathing has been used in meditations for centuries and it is getting more relevant each day as we seek to reduce our stress.

    Thanks for your great post!

  13. Thanks so much, Jennifer, Katieo, and Appleton! ("Duck's back", must remember!)

    And welcome Tom!
    Thanks for stopping by with actual information (a rare commodity at Cranky Fitness, where Crabby specializes in Uninformed Opinion).

    Looks like you have an interesting site there, though I'll have to be careful because I'm easily tempted by gadgets and you seem to know all about them. Appreciate your visit and your kind mention of Cranky Fitness!

  14. I've been wanting to test and review Wild Divine for a while now, but can't bring myself to cough up the money for it -- you're tempting me again. Maybe I can turn up a used copy on ebay (hint hint hint! )

    I've tested a lot of relaxation software, even got around to reviewing some of it. A few of them are great, and others are a bit complex for a casual user. (They stressed me while I tried to learn to de-stress!)

    But my favorite relaxation toy is an online "non-game" called You play a deer, in a forest. That's it, you just run around doing deer things. There's no goals, no points, no guns, no feed-the-pet-or-it-dies stuff.

    It's oddly charming, and very relaxing. And free. (I'm very fond of free)

    Maybe I can talk the developers into doing one with crabs? Endless Seashore, featuring Crabby McSlacker? (I almost suggested Endless Fitness, but that sounded WAY too much like work, and i started to feel stressed again)

  15. MT, thank you!

    This looks like a great link, and we LOVE Free! I'll try to put it up in a main post over the next week or two, depending on subject matter. (I already had too many Random things for today, and I've discovered people seem to have a limit on how many things they'll click on in a given post. Didn't want your suggestion to be lost).

    I do wonder why all the deer have to be male, but other than that, it looks awesome for stress relief!

    'Fraid I'm not quite ready to relinquish my copy of Wild Devine, but perhaps some other owner will realize there's cash to be had and offer theirs up.

    Thanks so much for your visit, and hope you stick around! You seem to be Cranky Fitness "natural," whatever the hell that means.

  16. This is a great posting! I love the 2nd half of # 3 and 4 and 5 are right on target. You left out something huge. I know some people like attention being at the gym, but some of the people who hate it, like me, are completely uncomfortable with people straight up staring me down while I'm obviously minding my own business with no sign saying that I want to talk. It's my pep peeve! You gotta read your targets better, you weird flirty people!...and no I don't want to talk about anything while I'm in the middle of exercising! Are people serious?! Just thought I'd share that its so rude to watch people. And very distracting for both parties...I feel better now! Lol!


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