Treating Anxiety With Neurofeedback

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Just about all of us have experienced anxiety at some point in our lives. Whether it’s butterflies in our stomach before a work presentation or nerves leading up to a big life change, anxiety is a normal part of the human experience. 

However, uncontrolled and excessive anxiety can rapidly take over a person’s life and cause serious issues. Finding an appropriate treatment method to manage your anxiety can further prove difficult, as each individual is different and personal circumstances can greatly impact one’s level of anxiety. Below, we examine how neurofeedback can help, what it is, and whether or not neurofeedback is right for you and your anxiety.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety can be described as the body’s instinctual reaction to a dangerous or frightening situation. Your body begins to produce hormones, like adrenaline, which speed up your respiration and heart rates, slow down digestion, and create other noticeable physical symptoms (like muscle stiffening, an impending feeling of dread, etc). 

This reaction is your sympathetic nervous system’s reaction to danger — often known as the “fight or flight” response. This physical reaction and rush of adrenaline are what can spur humans through incredibly dangerous or terrifying situations, which is exactly what this function is designed to do. 

However, in anxiety disorders, the body constantly produces this “fight or flight” response, even when there isn’t any danger. This can lead to a constant feeling of anxiety and dread, prolonged physiological responses, and other unpleasant symptoms. 

Slow Brain Wave Activity and Treating Anxiety: Is There a Connection?

All of us have varying speeds of brainwaves. High beta brainwave speeds indicate nervousness and anxiety. Yet, we have the ability to control our brainwave speeds through neurofeedback. This fact was discovered fairly recently, in the 1960s. Further, the study of brainwaves in relation to anxiety and other conditions continues to be an ever-evolving field of science. 

In fact, controlling or “retraining” our brain waves can have a huge impact on the treatment of anxiety and other mental health conditions. Neurofeedback involves monitoring brainwaves to identify anxious thoughts. From there, it’s possible to use technology to slow your brainwaves and calm anxious thoughts. Essentially, slowing brainwaves can ease your body out of its “fight or flight” response. 

It’s important to note that this treatment takes time. The world around us acts as a stressor, creating anxious thoughts, worries, and overstimulation, which in turn may lead to abnormal or fast-paced brain waves. However, our brains are incredibly versatile, and it is possible to train our brains, especially with consistent practice.

Creating a Brain Map

Before you can begin neurofeedback treatment, you need to create a “brain map” — and yes, this is exactly what it sounds like. 

A brain map, also known as a qEEG (quantitative electroencephalogram), creates a visual image of your brain functions, including brain waves and electrical activity. A qEEG is a tremendously helpful tool, which can help pinpoint brain wave patterns that some research has associated with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, sleeping problems, and more. It can also help to identify other issues, like brain tumors, epilepsy, seizures, and head injuries.

Essentially, a qEEG can help to identify weak areas and areas of abnormal activity. This allows interventions to effectively strengthen these weak areas or address the areas of abnormal activity.

Before you begin any treatment involving neurofeedback, you’ll need a qEEG to help your clinician understand what kind of help you need. In turn, they can design and create a unique treatment plan specifically for you. 

Neurofeedback: Digging Deeper

Neurofeedback taps into our brain’s constant ability to learn and seek rewards. In a nutshell, neurofeedback offers our brains a reward, such as a pleasant video or soothing music, when our beta brainwaves slow down, which indicates anxiety relief.

This form of psychology is best known as behaviorism. During neurofeedback, the pleasant audio and visual feedback dim when your brainwaves return to a high speed — essentially when your mind begins to race or you start to experience anxious thoughts again. This forces your brain to refocus on the video. 

As you refocus, your brainwaves will slow again and the audio and visual feedback brightens once again. This process can repeat hundreds of times in one session. In turn, this creates a reward system, and our brains instinctively begin to work to achieve the “reward,” which in this case is the audio and visual feedback.  

As you persevere with the sessions, you should start to see noticeable improvements in your everyday life. The reward system helps to train your brain to stay within the boundaries of healthy brainwave activity. 

Treating Anxiety With Neurofeedback

It can be difficult to pinpoint an exact, sure-fire way to treat anxiety. However, there are plenty of benefits to using neurofeedback as an anxiety treatment, including: 

  • Non-invasive (no pills, injections, or hospital visits)
  • A calm and soothing treatment under the supervision of a professional clinician
  • An almost subconscious method of treatment, but with long-lasting effects. 

It may take time for neurofeedback to start working. Retraining your brain is no different from learning any other skill, like learning to swim or riding a bike.

In the meantime, try to follow any instructions given by your doctor and make good lifestyle choices. If you can, identify and limit any causes of anxiety. Or better yet, remove them altogether.

Working in harmony with your neurofeedback can help you see results much earlier. Remember, each person is an individual, and you should take your own circumstances, needs, and personality into consideration. 

Getting the Help You Need

If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety by a qualified medical professional or psychologist, neurofeedback might be right for you. All in all, neurofeedback can be a good choice for anxiety sufferers who prefer a more straightforward and less invasive treatment option — and one that produces tangible and long-term results. 

For more information or to book an appointment, contact the Eastern Brain Centre at 03 8652 1628 or book online for our Wantirna location.


References:

Hammond, D.C. Neurofeedback Treatment of Depression and Anxiety. J Adult Dev 12, 131–137 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10804-005-7029-5

Tolin DF, Davies CD, Moskow DM, Hofmann SG. Biofeedback and Neurofeedback for Anxiety Disorders: A Quantitative and Qualitative Systematic Review. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2020;1191:265-289. doi: 10.1007/978-981-32-9705-0_16. PMID: 32002934.

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