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Articles    H4'ed 11/18/09

Handwarming from the Inside out; Thermal / Temperature Biofeedback

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Have you warmed your hands lately? How about your feet?
Thousands of people do it every day and they don't do it by putting their hands or feet under warm running water or by holding warm clothes, straight out of the dryer. They do it from the inside out.

Why would they do it?

Some have headaches, or stress disorders, anxiety or have an illness that's aggravated or set off by stress and tension. Some, the ones who warm their feet, in particular, have diabetes induced circulatory problems, or high blood pressure

These people are using the simplest, most inexpensive and accessible biofeedback technology available-- thermal or temperature biofeedback-- to warm their hands and feet.

Thermal biofeedback is based on a simple physiological fact. When you relax, when you turn down your stress response, all other things being equal, your hands warm up.

This understanding, that relaxation warms the hands and feet and stress, anxiety and fear cool them is not new. You've probably used or know phrases that characterize it, like,

"Cold hands, warm heart," for someone who is nervous,
"cold feet," for someone who is scared or experiencing anxiety.
"hot head" for someone easily upset or angered

The idea was described by writers and poets literally hundreds of years ago.

Thomas Fuller, in his book Gnomologia, wrote, over 250 years ago,
"Head and feet keep warm, the rest will take no harm."

A few hundred years earlier, Shakespeare described the phenomenon at least twice in his writings:
"Why does my blood thus muster to my heart,
And dispossessing all my other parts
Of necessary fitness?"

"The veins unfill'd, our blood is cold,
and then we put upon the morning,
are unapt to give or to forgive;
but when we have stuffed these pipes
and these conveyances of our blood with wine and feeding,
we have suppler souls than in our priest-like fasts:
Therefore, I'll watch him till he be dieted to my request,
and then I'll set upon him."

These are all phrases that describe the temper-temperature connection. Stress, anger, anxiety, fear all set off the stress response. But it wasn't until the last century that scientists understood the process-- that the stress nervous system causes blood vessels in the hands and feet to constrict, cutting circulation and cooling the extremities. The cardiovascular component includes rapid heart beats, increased blood pressure and shifting the blood flow from the skin to vital organs and muscles braced in preparation for fight or flight.

Here's how the Cold Hands Stress Response Works
The muscles encircling the walls of blood vessels in the skin tighten up, narrowing the lumen, or passageway of the blood vessels, decreasing their diameter. This cuts the blood flow (vasoconstriction) and causes the skin in the hands and feet to cool.

When the blood is "squeezed" out of these blood vessels in the skin, it has to go somewhere. It ends up raising blood pressure, going to the head and contributing to migraine headaches when the blood starts pounding in the braining, causing flushing or blushing. If a person suffers with diabetes, then stress-caused constriction of blood flow in the feet can worsen already problematic circulation or peripheral vascular diseas e which can cause pain, intermittent claudication and worse. Thermal biofeedback for the feet in patients with diabetes has helped enable them to walk further. In children with labile diabetes it has helped them to stabilize insulin and sugar.

The stress nervous system can also decrease blood flow to the gut, which can cause irregularity in the normal motions of the bowel muscles. Fluid absorption can decrease. This can set off symptoms of irritable bowel or colitis-- diarrhea or constipation. Stress nervous system induced reduced blood flow can also set off or aggravate menstrual cramps or hot flashes, both highly vascularly related problems. Studies have also shown it can help symptoms associated with arthritis, Raynauds and chronic pain.

High blood pressure or essential hypertension can be caused by the "cold hands stress response," because the same amount of blood is forced into a smaller volume. Diuretics and beta blocker medications both work to decrease the pressure by lowering the volume of fluid-- diuretics by causing fluid excretion, beta blockers by decreasing peripheral resistance. That means relaxing the blood vessels in the extremities so blood can be spread to a larger volume.

By touching your fingers, which react the most dramatically to stress induced constriction, to your lips, you can detect temperature changes as small as three degrees fahrenheit. Temperature feedback uses precision thermometers to feed back information about tiny changes in finger temperature. Biofeedback instruments enable you to detect changes from half a degree to one hundredth of a degree fahrenheit. The added sensitivity makes voluntary self control of your finger temperature not only possible, but probably the easiest form of biofeedback-- and certainly the least costly.

The Discovery of the Power of Thermal Biofeedback
At the Menninger Foundation, in Topeka Kansas, in the mid 1960's, researchers were studying the effects of Autogenic Training, a relaxation technique developed in Europe, based on psychophysiological responses to hypnotic suggestion imagery, which has had thousands of studies published attesting to its efficacy. The researchers observed a subject whose finger temperature increased over ten degrees in just a few minutes. After the ten minute session was over, they asked, "What happened?"

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One theme has run through my work for the past 40 plus years-- a desire to play a role in waking people up, raising their consciousness and empowering them. I was the organizer founder of the Winter Brain, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology and StoryCon Meetings and president of Futurehealth, Inc., with interests in (more...)

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