The Role of Self-Regulation in the Treatment of Stress

Dr. Hans Selye said that “Stress is part of life”. It is all around us. We cannot avoid it!  Some of the most exciting and positive events in our lives such as getting married, moving, or having a child are the most stressful experiences of all.  In the old days we could handle stress by confronting it, and it would likely go away.  Now days stress is more ongoing, more constant, and therefore very difficult to manage. In the beginning we sought to eliminate stress, but that is impossible. In fact, it is not actually the “stress” that is harmful; rather it is how we respond to it that can have such a negative impact. We also know that ongoing stress or chronic stress has a wear and tear effect on the body. Regardless if it is in response to everyday hassles, or a traumatic event, if it is left unchecked it can cause serious harm to one’s health and wellbeing.

There are many effective ways to cope with stress. Having an ongoing routine of sleep, nutrition, exercise, and spiritual connection are important aspects of a healthy lifestyle. It is also essential to have a support network of family and friends. However, when things become overwhelming or there is an unexpected change, sometimes basic self-care is not enough.

With an understanding that feelings and emotions have a powerful impact on the human body, therapists using a cognitive-behavioral approach have traditionally looked at how a person’s thought patterns and behaviors can be guided into more balanced lifestyle. Just as positive thoughts, feelings and behaviors promote health, negative emotional responses create poor physical and mental changes that can lead to all kinds of health problems. With this in mind, new and more comprehensive approaches have emerged using a combination of talk therapy and physiological monitoring to help the patient make more significant and lasting changes.

Biofeedback is a therapy method that is somewhat new to the world of mental-health. Mind-body therapy, specifically self-regulation methods like biofeedback can enhance the efforts in behavior change and overall improved life. Biofeedback uses electronic instruments to measure physiological processes and relay information back to the patient about his or her own body. Sensors placed on the body can assess muscle tension, heart rate and breathing patterns, giving the patient a picture of how the body is responding in times of stress as opposed to a relaxed state.

When simple biofeedback interventions are used with patients who suffer from anxiety or chronic stress, they can begin to understand how to transform themselves—going from feeling tense or nervous to feeling calm and relaxed. With enough practice people eventually train themselves to operate in a more balanced mode, regardless of their situation of circumstances. Self-regulation using biofeedback is an effective and useful tool when treating basic stress or more serious medical conditions in which stress plays a key role:   Biofeedback can be useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders, chronic pain conditions, insomnia, and asthma, to name just a few. 

Author: Julie Galat, MA, LLP