Temperature biofeedback is just one way to measure how we react to stress.
What does temperature have to do with stress? When you become stressed your body goes through what is called the fight or flight response. During this process your body goes through many changes to prepare to react physically to the real or perceived threat by fighting or running. Some of the changes that happen include increased sweating, heart rate, and muscle tension. Another change that happens is constriction of blood vessels. This is the change that allows us to use temperature biofeedback.
During stress the smooth muscles in the blood vessels in your hands and feet contract. This causes the blood vessels to be constricted. With the inside opening of the blood vessels now smaller, less blood gets through. Since your blood is warm, when there is less blood flowing through the blood vessels, your hands and feet become colder. Think of the term “cold feet”. The opposite is also true. When you relax, the blood vessels dilate as the smooth muscles in them relax. As more blood circulates through the blood vessels your hands become warmer. So when your hands are warm it can mean that you are more relaxed. It is not a 100% sure way to tell though. There are other things that can affect your hand temperature like medications that dilate or constrict blood vessels, caffeine, smoking, exercise, or even room or environment temperature.
We can use any of several types of temperature biofeedback tools to see changes in hand temperature. Stress dots and stress cards change color as temperature changes. You can stick an adhesive dot on your finger and watch as the color changes when your hands get warmer or cooler. You can hold your thumb on the color sensitive circle or square on a stress card to see changes in color. You can see the exact temperature to one tenth of a degree on a digital temperature feedback monitor. These are more sensitive and accurate than the dots or cards. Another low cost option are small glass thermometers on cardboard backing. In temperature biofeedback the goal is to increase your hand temperature to 94 degrees Fahrenheit. You can learn to increase your hand temperature though using relaxation exercises including diaphragmatic breathing, autogenic relaxation, and guided imagery.
There are also more sophisticated temperature biofeedback instruments that connect to a computer or smart phone. These display the temperature changes up to 1/100th of one degree digitally, with line or bar graphs, audio feedback and games that progress depending on the temperature changes.
Using temperature biofeedback:
1) Check your hand temperature using your temperature biofeedback device.
2) Record your starting temperature.
3) Begin doing a relaxation exercise.
4) Watch for any temperature changes.
5) Continue for 5 – 20 minutes
6) Record your ending temperature
Repeat this practice for 20 sessions from 1 time per day to 3 times per week.
Keep a log of your practice sessions including the date and time, your starting temperature, your ending temperature, and the length of your practice session.
Use graph paper to plot your starting and ending temperature readings. You should see an increase in both.
The lower cost, smaller items can be used in stress management or relaxation groups. You can learn to turn off the stress response and turn on the relaxation response by using temperature biofeedback.
To learn more about how to get temperature biofeedback tools visit www.mindbodydevices.com
Harry L. Campbell
President, Biofeedback Resources International Corp.