Anxiety is one of the most common mental health difficulties in Canada, and across the world. No doubt you’ve seen numerous articles on the subject, describing what anxiety is, why we suffer from it, and what to do about it. One of the questions I get asked quite frequently is whether neurofeedback can fix anxiety. It’s a great question, and here’s my answer!
The premise of neurofeedback is that if we are stressed out, anxious, depressed, or are suffering from others negative symptoms, our brain is likely to be operating less than optimally. Neurofeedback is a tool that helps train the brain to adjust how it is operating so that it can function more optimally and efficiently. You might think of it as gym training for the brain. The fact that it is training is an important distinction – it is not a treatment for a specific symptom, it is a training that helps your brain optimize itself over time and learn how to do so for the long term.
What is Neurofeedback?
You may never have heard of neurofeedback before, so here’s a quick primer on dynamical neurofeedback, which is the main type of neurofeedback we do here at Alongside You. Dynamical neurofeedback uses EEG equipment and software to monitor your brain activity, and feed information back to the brain about what it is doing. A crude analogy is to equate the neurofeedback system with a giant mirror being held up for the brain so that it can see its own processes and gain the information it needs.
Why does the brain need this information you may wonder? See, the wonderful thing about our brains is that they are self-regulating. If given the necessary information, our brains can change themselves to function more optimally, back within the parameters they were designed to operate within. The brain doesn’t need us to push it, or pull it in any particular direction if we can provide the brain with the information it needs. This is what dynamical neurofeedback helps the brain with. Our primary system monitors the brain, and feeds back information 256 times per second, allowing the brain to see what it is doing and adjust accordingly.
Can Neurofeedback Fix Anxiety?
There are numerous theories as to why people get anxious. There are personality factors, biochemical factors, life factors, brain function factors, and many more. The trouble with trying to fix anxiety by any means, is there are no guarantees. This is true of counselling, psychiatric medications, and every other form of therapy or treatment out there. I’ve been in this field long enough to know that none of the treatments or therapies we employ can be guaranteed to fix what ails us. This is, however, different than asking whether something can be helpful with anxiety, and if we ask this question, the answer with regard to neurofeedback is a resounding yes in my experience. I’d like to share three ways I see neurofeedback being helpful for anxiety.
3 Ways Neurofeedback Can Help Your Anxiety
- If you have been on medication, maybe some have worked really well or some have not. Often there are side effects to medications and in some cases, the side effects are worse than the symptom you’re trying to treat. Another concern can be when medications work for a time and then stop working. Sometimes people just simply don’t want to take medications for various reasons. This is where neurofeedback can be helpful and this is because neurofeedback is another way of working with the brain biology without the use of medications.
- If our brains are not functioning optimally when we’re anxious, neurofeedback can train our brain to function better. What’s important about this is that we’re not simply treating, or masking undesirably symptoms, we’re helping the brain function better and learn how to do this long term. Again, the analogy of going to the gym is helpful. If you get injured playing sports, you can simply take some medication to mask the pain. More effective, however, is going to the gym, under the guidance of a physiotherapist or other rehab professional, and working on the muscles, joints, and other areas to rehabilitate the injury and hopefully prevent a new one. This is what neurofeedback does for your brain.
- One of the main triggers for anxiety is the activation of the central nervous system (CNS) and interaction with the autonomic nervous system (ANS). In fact, some of the most exciting research coming out right now around anxiety, depression, and trauma has to do with the CNS and ANS, and particularly, the vagus nerve (but that’s a whole topic on its own). Check out this article if you want to geek out on this information. One of the most exciting things for me in working with my clients with anxiety is that neurofeedback can directly influence the CNS and ANS and induce the relaxation response, lowering the triggers for anxiety. This is especially exciting for those suffering from generalized anxiety because it is one of the most difficult forms to treat by other modalities. I can tell you that in my experience with clients, as well as my own personal experience with a generalized anxiety disorder, neurofeedback has been one of the most helpful things I’ve ever seen or experienced, both personally and professionally.
If I’m Interested in Neurofeedback What Should I Do?
If you’re interested in neurofeedback for your anxiety, please give us a call. It’s not necessarily a fast treatment (in our experience and the data for the system we mainly use, 12-20 sessions is the average), but it’s an effective tool that has long-lasting effects and trains your brain to function better for the long term. It can be used in conjunction with medications, and it actually has the potential to reduce the need for medication and enable a lowering of doses in some cases. Neurofeedback is an exciting tool in our toolbox, and another way to we can bring holistic, integrated approaches to care for our clients. As you can probably tell by now, I’m pretty excited about this.
Please contact us or give us a call if you have any questions or if you want to explore whether neurofeedback might be right for you. We’d love to chat!