What is Hand + Foot Warming?

Vasoconstriction – tightening of the blood vessels - is most commonly caused by sympathetic (fight/flight) arousal of the autonomic nervous system. When we are nervous, it is common for the blood supply to be shunted away from the extremities (hands and feet) and to the major muscles that we will need to help us either fight or flee.

Blood is what keeps our tissue warm, so when it is in short supply, we get chilly. I find interesting the observation made by physiologists that in the best of times, during optimal relaxation, our fingers serve as radiators, releasing heat from their many surfaces so we don’t feel too warm. Unfortunately, in our culture we are more apt to be nervous and our hands (and feet) are more likely to be cold.

The autonomic nervous system evolved in the time when stressors were clear and immediate life-threatening dangers. We were either eaten by predators or we got away.

Now our stressors tend to be chronic (interpersonal relations, finances, anxiety) and our autonomic nervous system, which never got past its primal origins, isn’t able, on its own, to sort that out. We can, however, fool it into believing we are safe and secure. One of the ways we can do that is by using biofeedback to retrain how our blood supply moves through our bodies and how our autonomic nervous system responds to stress. With practice and guidance, most people can learn to do this.

What is temperature training good for?

It has been used successfully by itself and in conjunction with other modalities in helping reduce:

  • head pain including migraines (both frequency and intensity)
  • peripheral neuropathy associated with diabetes
  • hypertension
  • anxiety
  • counteracting the symptoms of Raynauds disease

Disclaimer: While it’s true that most people who suffer from anxiety and other forms of heightened sympathetic arousal have cold hands and/or feet, not all do, therefore this would not be a suitable training modality for those individuals. In addition, there are some medical conditions that may make psychophysiological retraining less likely to be effective.