Biofeedback helps people manage stress

May 25, 2009 7:34:47 PM PDT
Employees at Stanford are feeling the stress.

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"I haven't slept had a goodnight's sleep in four, five years," said one employee.

"Everyday is a stressful day," said another.

"You always have the feeling someone younger, brighter, quicker, cheaper is going to out place you," said another.

It is enough stress that the university medical school, like an increasing number of companies around the Bay Area, is offering stress management training.

Bruce Cryer is CEO of Emwave. The company produces a bio-feedback device he is using to train employees to adjust their breathing, heart rate and mental state.

"The core concept was stress was pervasive and having a far more damaging effect on individual lives and individual health and organizations' lives and organizations' health than was first recognized," he explained.

ABC7 saw a close-up demonstration at the office of San Francisco psychologist Corey Bercun. He used the Emwave software to guide a patient through a series of steps. The system monitored his pulse as the patient visualized positive feelings and regulated his breathing.

Waves on one side of the screen represented an optimal heart rate when a person is relaxed.

"We want your breathing here to look like the coach, like the pacer," said Dr. Bercun.

Within a few minutes, the patient's heart rate was roughly in line, what the Emwave system calls "reaching coherence."

Later, Bercun would coach the patient to achieve the same result using a portable version of the device, like the one used at the Stanford seminar.

"And, by using this method, he's able to reproduce coherence. That's a nice smooth wave where his breathing is even and his heart rate is even," explained Dr. Bercun.

The Emwave combines a variety techniques used in other therapies and biofeedback systems, and has been studied for more than a decade. What has changed, according to Bruce Cryer, is the level of stress that people now believe they are under in an era of layoffs, bankruptcies and home foreclosures.

"I think the worst part for a lot people is this sense of, 'what's going to happen next,'" said Cryer.

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