A Neurotherapeutic Approach to
Anxiety and Stress-Related Disorders
"Neurofeedback treatment for many disorders such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, seizures, and others has been shown to be highly effective with long term lasting results. There are hundreds of published studies and several books demonstrating this."
Joel F. Lubar Ph.D., BCN
University of Tennessee
Beta-band brainwaves are fast brainwaves that are associated with intense mental activity. They are desirable during times when you need to focus, but in excess, they can be a source of worry, agitation, distress, and mental rumination.
Anxiety as seen through brainwave patterns...
Seeking relief from anxiety and stress is a common reason for pursuing neurotherapy. Fortunately, through effective, targeted neurotherapy, there is a correspondingly high success rate in treating these disorders, with many clients reporting a renewed capacity to live their lives from a calm, grounded state. Here we will outline a few common profiles of anxiety and offer research that supports the use of neurotherapy in successfully treating anxiety-related disorders.
The QEEG brain scan that we use in our clinic reveals the unique patterns of your own brainwaves; we correlate those patterns with your particular symptoms to design a tailored program that is most likely to work for you. While anxiety can look like different things on a brain scan, a very common profile of anxiety is the over-production of fast-wave activity.
This fast-wave activity refers to brainwaves generated in the beta-frequency band (see photo of normal adult brainwaves). "Beta" brainwaves are the brainwaves of vigorous mental activity; when in excess, however, they are correlated with feeling stuck in thought, obsessive rumination, stress, agitation, and worry.
While two people may have both received diagnoses of anxiety, the exact flavor of that anxiety can vary depending on where in the brain excessive beta waves are being generated (see picture of brain scan). For this reason, instead of treating in a general way, we always conduct a QEEG brain map to hone in on where your brain is generating abnormal wave patterns and the exact nature of those patterns. In doings so, we can precisely target and shift those patterns with appropriate tools (such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation, transcrandial alternating and direct currents, brown noise, and photobiomodulation). A recent meta-analysis of 208 separate studies found that neurostimulation of this sort is effective in alleviating anxiety and other mental health conditions; furthermore, treatment of this sort has staying power--meaning that the benefits continue long after treatment has concluded. (doi.org/10.1038/s41380-022-01524-8)
Research into the science behind neurotherapy and neurofeedback is revealing that these modalities engage the principle of neuroplasticity to change the underlying physiology of the brain. This physiological shift often correlates with alleviation of anxiety and profound improvements in one's quality of life.
Anxiety encompasses a range of symptoms, with the particular symptoms varying depending on where in the brain excess beta waves are being generated. Excess beta generation in the back of the head is often correlated with a sense of unease, and feeling 'on edge,' as if something bad is about to happen.
On the other hand, excess beta generation in the frontal lobes (as shown in the picture) is associated with endless mental rumination, and feeling as if thoughts are spinning out of control. The brain scan shown here is of an individual with severe anxiety who reported feeling trapped in a never-ending stream of thought and worry. The red color indicates that beta is extremely outside of the norm at 4 standard deviations.
The Relationship Between Stress, Anxiety, and Poor-Quality Sleep
Anxiety, stress, and sleep deprivation are inextricably linked. A consistent heightened state of arousal, in combination with stressful life circumstances, decreases one's ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or feel rested. A common profile seen in anxious people who also experience trouble sleeping is the presence of what's known as beta spindling.
Central spindling, fast-wave activity is associated with an inability to enter into a state of relaxation and a heightened state of awareness. This presentation frequently occurs in individuals who cite difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. 10.1155/2016/6413473 A typical approach for this presentation is electrical, slow-wave stimulation of the vagus nerve. In our clinic, this is done through the noninvasive application of skin electrodes. Stimulation of this sort helps the body enter into a state of calm, parasympathetic relaxation, thereby enabling better quality sleep.
Anxiety and Connectivity Training
In the case of anxiety and stress-related disorders, hypercoherence—where regions of the brain are excessively in sync with each other—often co-occurs along with fast-wave activity.
Coherence is a measure of the phase relationships between different regions of the brain. If the brain is hyper-coherent, this means that different regions are consistently in phase, and the cortex is excessively synchronized and locked in a pattern that is rigid and inflexible.
Anxiety is frequently co-morbid with other conditions, such as PTSD, ADHD, and depression. By conducting a complete health intake and QEEG, we are better able to correlate what is happening in the brain with your particular symptoms.
While there are individual variations, the usual goal of neurotherapy in addressing anxiety is the reduction of fast-wave activity in combination with neurostimulation that enhances deep, slow sleep frequencies. Over several treatment sessions, these patterns become learned in the brain without assistance, and this may cause a profound shift in one’s baseline state from heightened arousal to calm presence.