Hand warming is one of the many different methods used in Biofeedback training. At this point it may be useful to specify exactly what Biofeedback is and is not. The first incorrect idea about Biofeedback is that Biofeedback instruments actually change or influence bodily processes. This belief is incorrect. Biofeedback equipment merely monitors or measures bodily functions. The instrument “feeds back” information to you, so you become aware of small changes in your body, and the factors that bring about these changes. Through this, an awareness develops, that makes it possible to control your physiological functions.
Biofeedback training, and hand-warming in particular, have been shown to have a beneficial effect for those who suffer from migraine headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, pain, stress, digestive disorders, and many, many other ailments.
Biofeedback training does not require the use of drugs or surgery to alter the body, but teaches your body to alter itself. Once a biofeedback skill has been acquired, the patient usually then has no need for further use of training equipment, and may use feedback only to occasionally tune or validate the utilization of their skill.
The basic theory behind hand-warming stems from our understanding of the fight-flight response. The fight-flight response is an automatic change of physiological markers that take place when a person suddenly perceives danger or stress. Blood flow is significantly decreased in the extremities while being increased to the vital organs of the body. This enables a person to react physically to danger. This physiological change was very favorable and served as an automatic protection device, in primitive society. Although the fight-flight response has been beneficial and necessary for survival, it can also be harmful. If we overuse this natural response by constantly interpreting things as being stressful or dangerous, that really are not, we are chronically sending this response to the body.
The main goal of hand-warming is to assist in measuring our level of stress through skin temperature, and thereby allow us to change our stress level to meet the circumstances. The more stressed a person is, the lower the temperature in the hands, feet, and other extremities. The lower the stress level, the higher the temperature should be in the extremities.
The following hand temperature readings, in a normal office temperature environment, are generally accepted to correspond with these levels of arousal:
When measuring hand temperature the following items should be considered:
1.) Attach the probe to the middle finger of your dominant hand.
2.) The probe should be attached to the fleshy underside of your finger.
3.) Always record temperature from the same place of your finger.
4.) Use scotch tape with perforations, or cloth medical tape, so that the finger perspires as little as possible.
5.) Do not adhere the tape too tight, or circulation will be inhibited.
6.) Temperature readings should be taken when the ambient temperature is between 69 – 73° F. (Room Temperature)
7.) Avoid areas where fans, air conditioners, heaters, drafts and breezes are present.
8.) Avoid other contact with warm or cold objects such as drinks or outdoor exposure.
Methods of Producing Relaxation
You now have a basic understanding of hand temperature and what it indicates about your present level of stress. How do we regulate our hand temperature and reduce stress?
There are many different ways to increase your hand temperature. We suggest that you try them all, and find the method that works best for you. The basic idea behind each of these methods is to focus yo9ur consciousness on the experience of being profoundly relaxed.
DEEP BREATHING— This is one of the most common ways used to relax. It has an ancient therapeutic history. It is accomplished by taking deep diaphragmatic breathes and then exhaling for a longer count than the inhalation.
MUSCLE TENSING— This is accomplished through sessions of tensing muscles and then completely relaxing them. It is believed that the relief you experience after tensing your muscle is an analogue of the conscious relaxation process you are trying to learn.
IMAGERY— The relaxation response is activated in this method by having the person think about a very peaceful, warm and calm place, such as lying on your beautiful imaginary beach. It is helpful if the person actually imagines the warmth along with imagining themselves there.
MUSIC— We are just beginning to understand the impact of music. Some people find it quite easy to increase their hand temperature by just sitting in a comfortable chair and listening to appropriate soft music.
AUTOGENIC PHRASES— In this method, positive, present tense statements are said to one’s self. Examples would be: I feel quite relaxed. My hands are beginning to feel warm. My muscles are all loose and comfortable. I can feel the blood running into my hands. My hands feel heavy and warm. This is a very popular method and seems to work for most people.
OPEN FOCUS— On open focus training you try to imagine an interior portion of space in your body. Examples might be: Can you imagine the space between your eyes? Can you imagine that your hands and fingers are filled with space? Each statement is made and then you pause briefly concentrating for about 10 seconds on the specific area.
Once you have discovered a method that works for you, take time once a day to practice your relaxation routine. For maximum benefit, you should be able to reach and maintain a temperature of 95.5 degrees F for five minutes each training session. This simple procedure pays great dividend for your effort.
Temperature Training Procedures
1. Starting hand temperature will vary with room temperature; hand temperature will be colder in a cold room than in a warm room.
2. In a room of normal temperature, when you are neither deeply relaxed nor stressed, starting hand temperature will be in the mild or high 80’s. Finger temperature of 80°F is cool, 75° F is cold, and 70° F or below is very cold; 90° F is warm, and the training goal is 95-96° F for 10 minutes. If your hands are quite cold, temperature may increase very slowly, and only after several minutes of training; If your hands are in the low-mid 80’s temperature may increase rapidly; if your hands are in the low-mid 90’s temperature may increase slowly, with only a few degrees of increase, but at that level, a few degrees is a significant change.
3. When you are beginning temperature training find a comfortable, quiet environment in which to train; later training you will be able to practice and use this skill in any environment.
4. You should use a blanket in a cold room.
5. Make sure that the tape is not too tight.
6. Learning to raise and lower hand temperature is the goal for self-regulation.
7. When training on the dominant hand is mastered, place the thermistor on the non-dominant hand to make sure that the training is generalized.
8. The autogenic training phrases are a guide. You may experiment with other phrases, imagery, body feelings, etc. if your hands and feet are cold, it may be best to focus on feelings of heaviness, not warmth.
9. Relaxation sessions should begin with a few minutes of deep breathing.
10. As with all types of self-regulation, PASSIVE VOLITION is essential.
11. Initial temperature training should be practiced when you are feeling relatively comfortable i.e. not during a headache. When the hand warming/relaxation skill is learned, you will use it for prevention of the symptom, at symptom onset, and during the symptom.
TRAINING ON THE FEET
12. Raising temperature in the feet may be more difficult than in the hands; feet tend to be many degrees colder than the hands, especially in the winter. Temperatures of 90 – 93 ° F are excellent in the feet.
13. Place the thermistor on the first or second toe. The foot should be covered with a blanket.
14. Following whole body relaxation, focus primarily on relaxation and heaviness in the lower part of the body.