Can Neurofeedback help with Anxiety?

A study on using Neurofeedback to reduce anxiety was published in 1978: Hardt, J. V., and Kamiya, J. (1978). Anxiety change through electroencephalographic alpha feedback was only seen in high anxiety subjects. Science, 201, 79-81. The results suggested that Neurofeedback training can be useful in anxiety therapy.

This paper considered multiple studies on Neurofeedback treatment for anxiety and depression, finding “particularly positive research support for the treatment of anxiety disorders”: Hammond, D. Corydon. “Neurofeedback treatment of depression and anxiety.” Journal of Adult Development 12.2-3 (2005): 131-137.

What is Anxiety?

Some people experience anxiety when they have to give a presentation or during a driving test. Others can become anxious because of being high up, or in the presence of spiders. These forms of anxiety are mostly considered as mild; it becomes more severe when the anxiety and worrying are less controllable, disproportionate, more consistent, and most importantly, when it impacts negatively on one’s daily functioning. In these cases, the severe anxiety may be a symptom of a more serious mental condition, such as a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety, Phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Research hasn’t discovered the exact cause of (severe) anxiety, yet, in some situations, it occurs after a stressful life event. Others experience anxiety without an immediate cause. Some contribute anxiety to a complex combination of causes such as genetics, a certain environment, and life events. The main assumption is, however, that (severe) anxiety is caused by a deregulation of certain chemicals (‘neurotransmitters’) that occur naturally in the brain. Because of this deregulation, one’s mood can change and related symptoms develop.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety can range in number. How intense they are and how often they occur all depends on the person. The main symptom is that the anxious feelings are irrational and disproportionate to the circumstances. Other associated symptoms can develop physically and mentally, causing withdrawal and avoidance behavior and lower self-esteem.

Associated symptoms of Anxiety

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and tiredness
  • Pins and needles
  • Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Head – and/or stomach ache
  • Dry mouth, Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urinating, diarrhea
  • Painful or missed periods
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)

Associated mental symptoms

  • Restlessness
  • A sense of dread
  • feeling constantly “on edge”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Easily distracted

Treatment for Anxiety

There are many ways to treat anxiety. Some benefit from one treatment, others from a combination of treatments. The two main treatment options for (severe) anxiety are psychological therapy, in particular, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), or medication. With CBT, unhelpful and unrealistic beliefs and behavioral patterns are identified and changed, which can reduce anxiety. Medication (e.g. selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, benzodiazepines) is prescribed for physical, as well as mental symptoms, despite unpleasant side effects. Other treatment options are self-help, Applied Relaxation, Parental Anxiety Management, Hypnotherapy and Herbal treatments, caffeine elimination, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), and Psychosurgery. Psychosurgery is rarely used and solely in extreme cases, when other treatment options do not work.

Neurofeedback and Anxiety

Neurofeedback training is a natural, non-invasive and effective choice in reducing Anxiety.

Whilst medication can provide short-term relief by adjusting the chemicals in the brain, neuroplasticity enables Neurofeedback to ‘rewire’ the brain’s electrical circuits permanently.

With Neurofeedback, the brain’s own self-regulating ability is used to resolve brain-deregulation, resulting in fewer worries and fears, decreased muscle tension, fewer headaches  and/or stomachaches, and improved sleep patterns and better concentration.

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