Stress, anxiety, and brainwave dysregulation
How neurofeedback therapy can manage anxiety by guiding dysregulated brainwaves back to normal, organized patterns.
Stress causes anxiety and the experience of anxiety is actually a normal reaction to stress and in some situations may even be beneficial. For some, however, anxiety can interfere with the ability to function normally and even cause uncontrollable panic attacks.
There is a wide variety of anxiety disorders including panic disorder, post- traumatic stress disorder, obsessive- compulsive disorder, and phobias. Collectively, they are among the most common mental disorders experienced by Americans. In fact, anxiety disorders affect about 40 million — almost 20 percent — of American adults age 18 years and older in a given year. And women are 60 percent more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
A large national survey on adolescent mental health reported that 8 percent of teens age 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6.
The medical approach
Generally, prescription drugs are used to control the symptoms of a panic attack, reduce their regularity, and lessen their severity should one take place.
Although these medications are proven to relieve symptoms of an anxiety attack, they are not a cure. There are great risks involved with prescription medications, and taking them for anxiety disorders may not be worth the potential side effects or lasting problems they can cause.
Beyond being potentially habit forming and addictive, anxiety medication has been shown to significantly increase the mortality rate of users — as much as 36 percent.
The following are known side effects attributed to various panic attack medications:
- Weight gain (or loss)
- Impotence, sexual dysfunction, or decreased libido
- Memory loss
- Impaired thinking and judgment
- Confusion or disorientation
- Impaired vision and motor skills
In addition, there are some paradoxical effects of panic attack medication including worsened anxiety, irritability, and agitation. More severe side effects such as hallucinations, mania, rage, and suicidal ideation can also occur. Addiction is also a possibility with many prescription medications, and in some cases overdosing can lead to death.
Anxiety disorders and the brain
Several parts of the brain have been implicated in the production of fear and anxiety. Using brain imaging technology and quantitative electroencephalogram (QEEG), scientists have discovered that the amygdala and the hippocampus
are involved in most anxiety disorders.
The amygdala alerts the rest of the brain that a threat is present and triggers a fear or anxiety response. The emotional memories stored in the central part of the amygdala may be invoked in anxiety disorders involving distinct fears (e.g., arachnophobia or agoraphobia).
The hippocampus converts threatening events into memories. Studies have shown that the hippocampus appears to be smaller in some people who were victims of child abuse or served in military combat.
The role of QEEG and neurofeedback in treatment
QEEG requires an analysis of brainwave patterns at 12 different sites on the brain. This procedure is painless and noninvasive and it provides information regarding specific patterns that may be associated with increased predisposition to anxiety.
In many cases, these dysregulated patterns can be corrected with neurofeedback, resulting in the complete and often permanent alleviation of anxiety.
There are several different brainwave patterns that have been identified and associated with anxiety disorders; however, the most common pattern is elevated magnitudes of beta brainwaves. The beta brainwave resonates between 12 and 15 Hz and is normally produced at high magnitudes when the brain is involved in external thought, critical reasoning, and problem solving.
In some individuals, the brain becomes dysregulated and begins producing high magnitudes of beta most of the time.
The brain map below demonstrates this type of brainwave dysregulation:
This type of dysregulation is typically associated with anxiety disorders as well as migraines, insomnia, and chronic pain syndromes.
Neurofeedback therapy is a therapeutic method of exercising the brain that guides dysregulated brainwaves back to normal organized patterns.
This allows the brain to operate efficiently and properly.
In the case of beta dysregulation that causes anxiety, neurofeedback training helps teach the individual how to lower the magnitude of the beta waves that are being produced, thus normalizing the pattern and alleviating the anxiety. Neurofeedback therapy is said to have no serious side effects, and has been shown effective in managing many neurological conditions including anxiety, panic attacks, ADHD, learning disorders, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, chronic pain, and insomnia.