Neurofeedback Training for Anxiety
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
The evolution of our society and technology has occurred at a much faster pace than the evolution of our bodies and brains. As a result, our brains may sometimes respond to stress as if we are being chased by a saber tooth tiger.
Even in the absence of actual danger, our brains can sometimes switch into the fight-or-flight response mode. You may have experienced this yourself: your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes faster, and your pupils dilate, all in response to perceived danger. While these physical symptoms can be helpful in certain situations, they can also be disruptive and uncomfortable, especially if you have anxiety and your fight-or-flight response is frequently triggered unnecessarily.
However, there is good news: research has shown that the brain has a significant degree of neuroplasticity, which means it can change its structure and function in response to new stimuli and environments. This suggests that it is possible to modify the way our brains respond to stress and potential danger.
Rewiring the Brain With Neurofeedback Training
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that uses EEG technology to monitor your brainwave activity in real time and provide visual or auditory feedback based on protocols developed by a neurofeedback provider. This training, or feedback, is often delivered through games or videos and aims to help your brain learn to be in a more balanced, healthy state. In most cases, it is beneficial to combine neurofeedback with other forms of training such as HRV training, Mind Analysis, meditation, visualization practice, cold exposure and extended retreats. The best approach for anxiety depends on the specific nature of the and the preferences of the individual.
Which part of the brain is responsible for generating anxiety?
The brain has two separate pathways that can contribute to anxiety: one that involves our perceptions and thoughts about situations, which originates in the cerebral cortex, and another that travels directly through the amygdala and triggers the fight-or-flight response.
Both pathways can play a role in anxiety, but some types of anxiety may be more related to the cortical pathway (which is influenced by our thoughts and perceptions) while others may be more influenced by the amygdala pathway (which operates more quickly and can create physical symptoms of anxiety without our conscious knowledge or control). The amygdala pathway can produce a surge of adrenaline and physical symptoms of anxiety within less than a tenth of a second. If you feel like your anxiety doesn't have an obvious cause and doesn't make logical sense, it may be due to the amygdala pathway.
Anxiety and the Brainwave Connection
A healthy and well-balanced brain will produce brainwaves at the appropriate levels and times for the current situation. There are five types of brainwaves: Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma, which are repetitive patterns of neuronal activity. Anxiety is often associated with a decrease in alpha waves and an increase in beta waves. Neurofeedback aims to teach you how to modify your brainwaves to achieve a more desirable brainwave state. For example, alpha waves are associated with relaxation, while beta waves are linked to alertness. However, maintaining high levels of beta waves for an extended period of time can lead to feelings of fear and anxiety. Therefore, if you are stressed and anxious, your goal might be to increase alpha waves while decreasing beta wave activity.
Does Anxiety Affect the Brain?
Anxiety can change the brain by decreasing the connections between the amygdala, which is involved in emotional processes, and the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for response inhibition and selecting appropriate responses to goals. In a healthy brain, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and amygdala work together to analyze and respond to social and environmental cues. When a potential threat is detected, the amygdala sends signals throughout the brain, activating the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex to help the brain respond appropriately. However, anxiety weakens the connection between the amygdala and the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, making it less likely that you will respond to the threat rationally. Research has shown that neurofeedback may help to strengthen the connection between the amygdala and the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. With this connection restored, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex is better able to provide an appropriate response to potential threats, reducing the impulsive, hyperactive reactions that are commonly associated with anxiety.
Whether you were born with a brain naturally prone to anxiety or whether you developed your tendency for anxiety later in life and career, there are effective ways to reduce your anxiety.