Biofeedback, support groups, and self-assessments can help you reduce anxiety, sleep better, and have fewer headaches, among other benefits. Here's how you can take advantage.
What's eating you? Unless you're very self-aware, you may not know, for example, that speaking to your boss makes your blood pressure go up or that your insomnia might not be caused by the cup of coffee you drank at noon but by your online banking too close to bedtime.
How can you uncover what's bothering you? There are many ways to gain insight into your emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. Here are three tools that can not only help you get inside yourself, but control what's going on inside your mind and body.
Think of support groups as a form of brainstorming with a supportive, caring group of people who can become a mirror for your psyche. During a support group—which is typically led by a psychologist, nurse, psychiatrist, or social worker—people with similar issues or problems get together to discuss experiences. During the sessions you can learn coping skills and get advice and information from the facilitator as well as the other participants. "Groups tend to foster insight into problems and issues," says Mark Roa, a licensed psychologist and a senior fellow at the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance.
To find a support group near you that centers around a particular challenge, check with your local hospital. For peer-led support groups, check out dailystrength.org—you can even create your own online group.
Based on the premise that we can become aware of and control involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension, biofeedback measures all of the above, giving you a visual picture of each. "Biofeedback is a way to raise awareness and control over to responses to whatever symptom you might be experiencing—for example, chronic pain, tension headaches, sleep problems, anxiety," says Roa.
During a biofeedback session, electrodes are attached to your skin. The practitioner—usually a psychiatrist, psychologist, physical therapist, or other licensed medical professional—will take you through exercises to show you how specific relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing can be used to calm your mind and body. "You can gain control by letting go," says Roa.
To find a certified practitioner, ask your primary care doctor for a recommendation. Or turn to the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (bcia.org).
Those who enjoy self-reflection can get a better idea of what's bothering them by completing self-assessment tools such as the ones found at heartmath.org, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping people reduce stress and better control their emotions. The assessments help people identify the biggest stressors in their lives and their impact on overall well-being. MedlinePlus (nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus), a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, also has a list of links to health-check tools that can assess mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Or stay right here and check out helpful tools like:
- Stress Trigger Assessment
- Understanding Your Response to Stress
- Depression Risk Assessment
Just search for "quiz" for even more options.
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