April 15, 2024
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Thermal biofeedback is a technique that utilizes specialized equipment to measure and monitor changes in a person’s peripheral temperature obtained on the individual’s finger or toes. In the case of increased arousal (sympathetic nervous system activation), vasoconstriction occurs in most tissues to deliver more blood to skeletal muscles, and the body’s surface temperature decreases. Did you ever notice your hands getting cold when you felt nervous? If so, by providing individuals with real-time feedback about their sympathetic nervous system activity, thermal biofeedback aims to help individuals gain control over their physiological responses to stress and anxiety.

One area where thermal biofeedback has been found to be particularly beneficial is in athletic performance, specifically in helping athletes prepare for competitions. Sympathetic activation, which is characterized by an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, sweat production, and a decrease in peripheral temperature, is a natural physiological response to stress and can have both positive and negative effects on performance.

Prior to and during competition, a certain level of sympathetic activation is necessary for athletes to perform at their best. It increases alertness, focus, and reaction time. However, excessive sympathetic activation can lead to a decline in performance, as it can result in feelings of anxiety, tension, and even panic.

By utilizing thermal or other biofeedback modalities, athletes can learn to modulate their sympathetic nervous system activity and achieve the optimal level of arousal to show better performance. Through regular sessions of biofeedback training, athletes can develop a better awareness of their body’s physiological responses and learn techniques to control their activation levels.

Thermal biofeedback is one simple and easy technique to use anywhere. The hands are highly responsive to changes in sympathetic nervous system activity, and by learning to increase or decrease the temperature of their hands, athletes can gain control over their physiological arousal.

For example, prior to competition, athletes can engage in a relaxation exercise that involves paced breathing and visualization. They can mentally rehearse themselves in their calm and confident state while simultaneously attempting to increase the temperature of their hands. This practice helps to activate the relaxation response and counteract any “excessive” sympathetic activation.

By incorporating thermal biofeedback training into their pre-competition routines, athletes can effectively manage their physiological responses to stress and anxiety. This can lead to improved performance, increased self-confidence, and a greater sense of control over their emotions and reactions. Biofeedback alone does not increase performance, and in the entire process described, there are a few other mental skills and psychophysiological assessments to be added. However, Biofeedback is an essential tool to complement other mental training interventions and maximize performance.

In conclusion, utilizing thermal biofeedback to assess sympathetic activation prior to competition can be a valuable tool for athletes of all levels who want to optimize their performance. By gaining control over their physiological arousal levels, athletes can achieve the optimal state of readiness for peak performance. With regular practice and training, thermal biofeedback can become an essential part of an athlete’s preparation for competition.

If you are interested, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.


Or stop at the mental training booth during the Transpacific event “Oceanic Open Championships” on May 4th and 5th at the Hawaii Convention Center to receive a handy Biofeedback tool, “the stress card,” and talk about other Biofeedback Applications to Sports Performance.

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