Thursday, July 23, 2009


Many years ago, in a Physiological Psychology class we studied Biofeedback. It had nothing to do with the day you were born or where Saturn's fifteenth moon happened to be. It was all about what the body's autonomic system did under certain conditions. Things like heart rate, blood vessel diameter, breathing, etc.

We used different mechanical devices to measure what our body's functions were doing while we reacted to different stimulus. Modern lie detectors use these devices. Then, for extra credit, we would spend time connected to these devices learning how to control various autonomic systems with our own minds.

I became very accomplished at being able to control my heart rate and my galvanic skin response. We would even have contests where two students would hook up and compete to see who could best control their systems. This was particularly difficult because the very nature of competition causes your autonomic system to kick in. I kicked butt!

Now, these many years later, I feel like I'm walking around hooked up to a giant monitoring machine. If I become frustrated while trying to perform some task my brain fails to block some of the autonomic systems that would normally require a real jump start. For instance, if you become incredibly angry, you would likely become red faced (open capillaries-rapid heart rate) and even begin shaking (muscular twitching). But you would not experience this without being really ticked-off. I, on the other hand, now have a much lower baseline.

I can have difficulty inserting a key into a lock and as I struggle I can feel my system kicking in. I am fortunate that I understand what is happening and am able to revert back to my days as a Physio-Psych-Geek-Stud. I breathe slowly and use my old tricks (that shall remain a secret lest I expose the link between autonomic and carnal).

At this point it works, but my baseline is lowering or perhaps even dissolving. Thank you Biofeedback!


  1. I think the old GIJoe mantra of "knowing is half the battle" helps here.

    When I was studying this stuff (admittedly, not as deeply as you did), it would help to calm myself down by understanding what's going on.

    Now, I do it on a molecular level. Whenever I take a pain killer, I think of the x-ray crystal structure of one of them binding into the cyclooxygenase pocket of the prostiglandin synthase enzyme.

    Thanks, biochemistry, for all the help and nightmares you've given me over the years!

  2. MJenks,
    Chemistry CLASS gave me nightmares.....and the only drugs I took in college were inhaled. Not that Bill & I ever actually inhaled.


I read ALL comments right after they're posted. I may fail to respond, but please know your input is appreciated.