Want to try biofeedback without formal therapy? Several new devices promise to teach the techniques at home. "They're very effective to help you engage in breathing that lowers the stress response," says Paul Rosch, a clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College and president of the American Institute of Stress. U.S. News reporters tested them out.
StressEraser, $300: This device measures subtle changes in your heart rate—called heart rate variability—that are influenced by your breathing. It guides you to breathe slowly and evenly so as to achieve a pattern of waves that looks like roller coaster peaks and valleys.
Comment: "My gadget was definitely easy to use, but to get a good breathing score, I had to take extremely deep breaths, which made me lightheaded and dizzy. I don't think the device helped me much because I wouldn't want to replicate that breathing pattern when stressed. Perhaps exercise would suit me better."
RESPeRATE, $300: This device, approved by the Food and Drug Administration to lower blood pressure, isn't technically a biofeedback machine, but it does help you achieve the same goal: proper breathing to lower stress. You strap a belt with a breathing sensor around your abdomen or chest and listen to instructions through headphones.
Comment: "Pleasant music guides you when to inhale and exhale, an overall experience I found very relaxing. My one gripe: a distracting voice that came on repeatedly to tell me to adjust my belt."
emWave, $200: Pressing your thumb on the iPod-size device also monitors your heart rate variability, letting you know through a rising and falling bar of lights when to inhale and exhale. A light at the top tells you when you're in the red "stressed" zone, the blue "medium" zone, or the green "relaxed" zone.
Comment: "On the plus side, emWave is easy to use. I didn't have too much difficulty moving from the red zone to the green. But then I'd slide back down again, which would jack up my stress. I tried several sessions, but whatever mellowness I felt dissipated within a few minutes."