In today’s fast-paced world, anxiety has become a prevalent and concerning issue affecting individuals of all ages. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this problem, with feelings of fear, worry, and uncertainty becoming more common. As we strive to find effective interventions for anxiety, the emerging field of connected health, combined with biofeedback techniques, holds great promise.

Understanding Anxiety
Anxiety, a complex interplay of psychological and physiological factors, manifests as a state of fear, uneasiness, and nervousness. It is a natural response to stress, serving as a signal of potential danger. However, when anxiety becomes persistent and overwhelming, it may indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder. These disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, can significantly impact a person’s well-being and quality of life.

A person suffering from anxiety

The Rise of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders have been on the rise globally, and Sweden is no exception. Self-reported anxiety and nervousness have witnessed an 11% increase in the country between 2011 and 2021. Women tend to be more affected than men across all age groups. The contributing factors to anxiety disorders are multifaceted, including difficult life experiences, environmental influences, health behaviors, and various physical factors such as genetics and brain chemistry.

Connected Health Interventions for Anxiety
Connected health, the integration of information communication technology into healthcare, offers innovative solutions for managing anxiety. Among the various digital interventions, biofeedback stands out as a non-pharmacological and non-invasive approach. Biofeedback leverages the measurement of physiological changes associated with psychological states, enabling individuals to monitor and control their bodily functions influenced by anxiety.

Advantages of Biofeedback
Technological advancements have made biofeedback more accessible, affordable, and user-friendly. It allows individuals to gain awareness and insight into their physiological changes, empowering them to better regulate their mental states. Biofeedback can help individuals recognize internal states linked to arousal and relaxation, fostering a sense of self-efficacy and control. By addressing both psychological and physiological symptoms, biofeedback holds immense potential in anxiety detection and treatment.

Types of Biofeedback and Their Applications
Biofeedback utilizes various sources of biodata, including respiration, brain activity (neurofeedback), muscle tension, skin conductance, temperature, and heart rate variability. Our systematic literature review has revealed that biofeedback interventions for anxiety primarily leverage two types of feedback: modifications to user interface and experience or visual presentations of physiological changes. Virtual Reality (VR) has emerged as a powerful tool, enhancing the efficacy of biofeedback interventions by providing immersive exposure therapy experiences. Serious games coupled with biofeedback have also shown promising results, influencing behavior and facilitating learning.

Biofeedback is often combined with relaxation techniques, such as progressive relaxation, breathing exercises, and meditation. These practices have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing anxiety and stress. In biofeedback-based interventions, individuals receive real-time feedback on their physiological measurements, fostering a deeper understanding of the mind-body connection. Music therapy, coupled with biofeedback, has also yielded positive outcomes, regulating both physical and mental health.

The Road Ahead
As we delve deeper into the realm of biofeedback-based connected health interventions for anxiety, ongoing research and development are crucial. Further exploration of different sensors, treatment techniques, and physiological data collection methods will enhance the efficacy and accessibility of these interventions. Collaborations between researchers, clinicians, and technology experts hold the potential to transform anxiety management and empower individuals to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

Reference: Alneyadi, M., Drissi, N., Almeqbaali, M., and Ouhbi, S. (2021). Biofeedback-based Connected Mental Health Interventions for Anxiety: Systematic Literature Review. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 9(4): e26038, doi: 10.2196/26038