A “psychophysiological stress profile” is a brief record of several body responses over a brief period of time, typically less than 10 to 15 minutes. During this time, various “stressors” are presented. These stressors are fairly mild, things like counting backwards, solving puzzles under time pressure, seeing or hearing something stressful, or speaking out loud about some personal stress issue.
Typically, we measure at least muscle tension, heartbeat, breathing, and GSR (skin conductance). The responses of each of these is recorded as they happen. The rest periods between each stress period give the body a chance to recover, or “return to baseline.” This provides a brief snapshot of a person’s psychophysiological functioning and gives a lot of information.
People vary in their baselines of each body variable, how strongly they respond, what they respond the most to, and how quickly they recover. Looking at the responses in detail allows a quick summary about that person’s individual tendencies (for instance, “tense muscles, slow to recover from performance pressure” or “strong cardiac responder to personal issues”). The information is normally displayed graphically, with labels and colored lines for each variable.
Here is a sample stress profile, with the top line of words in blue telling what was done in each 2-minute period:
The top trace (EMG means muscle) shows muscles of the neck and face responding to stressors and to recovery and relaxation, in 2-minute segments. Also shown in the lower traces are heart rate, pulse volume, breathing, skin conductance, and hand temperature.
Here is another trace showing heart rate and breathing only, alternating between stress and relaxation:
Doing this sort of stress profile is optional, but doesn’t take long and yields a lot of information. Looking at the patterns of response, interesting insights and conclusions emerge. Stress usually affects one variable more strongly than the others (for instance, strong heart or muscle responses). Knowing that helps guide the choice of where biofeedback might do the most good. Also, talking or even thinking about various personal “hot topics” will reveal which ones have strong effects on the body, and therefore are likely to create symptoms.