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Anxiety, COVID, and Neurofeedback

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Anxiety disorders are one of the most common problems that we face today, particularly given the impact of COVID on everyday life. However, it’s often useful as we enter this discussion to distinguish anxiety from stress, with anxiety being the more subjective psychological experience of worrisome thoughts, fears, combined with noticeable discomfort in the body, often in the chest area. Anxiety can be present when there’s no immediate event considered to be stressful, and the internal discomfort eventually leads to sleep loss, fatigue, and other physical or mental symptoms. On the other hand, stress is experienced with a range of rather immediate symptoms such, as anger, frustration, irritability, fatigue, poor sleep but all in the context of some identifiable stressor. A big job interview, getting the kids out the door, even preparing for a party would be good examples of potentially stressful events. The body gets aroused trying to prepare for and handle the stressful event. When the event’s over, the sense of stress is relieved, and so is the anxiety.

Now conditions of chronic stress can lead to more serious struggles with not only ongoing anxiety but worsening physical symptoms in the body: digestive, endocrine, and circulatory function start to break down rather quickly under such circumstances. In the end, both persistent stress and anxiety have many negative effects on the body. However, mental health professionals often fail to appreciate the detrimental impact upon the brain itself. There are many well-documented neurobiological consequences of chronic stress or anxiety, they’re without question, but often we do not think of this as a problem that dramatically changes brain biology and physiology. In fact, this is fundamentally why we develop anxiety disorders, it is not some momentary flash in the brain when we have anxiety, there’s a fundamental change in how the brain operates at a chemical or neurological level. Thus, anxiety worsens not because we keep choosing anxious, fearful, obsessive, or even panicky thoughts, it’s because our brains have shifted from their healthy patterns to abnormal ways of functioning.

Again, we didn’t choose this, and it’s very very difficult, if not impossible, to simply choose our way out of it. These abnormal patterns causing the anxiety evolve in response to what we’ve experienced, what we’ve learned, what we’ve eaten, how we slept, and what was modeled to us as children. While the ‘why’ is ultimately more complicated than we can cover here, the real issue is what can we do about it? Despite the many shortcomings of medication as a long-term solution to anxiety, drug therapy is often the treatment of choice. Between side effects and loss of efficacy, usually leave adults and children with more anxiety than less anxiety. As time goes on, cognitive therapy also yields benefits, but again, outcomes are variable, and any positive results decline after treatment ends.

Both therapy and medications are best seen as coping method, rather than bringing about permanent changes in the brain to relieve anxiety once and for all. Here’s where neurofeedback becomes important if you or family members struggle with any form of anxiety disorder because there is hope for lasting relief. From generalized anxiety to OCD to panic disorders to PTSD, neurofeedback shows promise that bringing about permanent, lasting change in the brain that often relieves anxiety-related symptoms for good. Potential clients will ask, how does neurofeedback work? Is it painful? Are you going to put stuff into my brain? The answer is actually quite elegant and beautiful.

First, it’s not painful, and there are no documented detrimental side effects long-term from neurofeedback — with hundreds of studies. Secondly, nothing is put into your brain, you do not get zapped with electrical signals or anything like that. Instead, what happens is that neurofeedback simply gives your brain very, very precise feedback signals in response to small changes in your brainwaves. It is important to know that while your state of mind may seem to change slowly, the brain is actually in constant flux. Changes in brainwaves occur not in seconds but in hundreds or thousands of seconds. In other words, your brain is constantly moving in ways you do not recognize. But neurofeedback equipment not only recognizes that this but signals you when any change occurs. Thus, when the brain makes a very tiny incremental move toward a healthier brainwave pattern, the neurofeedback equipment makes a tone that is essentially a yes signal to the brain.

Now oddly, our brains are remarkably consistent as they are seemingly wired to learn from this neurofeedback signal, almost regardless of our past experience. With a bit of time doing neurofeedback, our brains evolve by responding to those signals. By the way, we call this operant conditioning, and it’s a very consistent outcome. So, within a few weeks the brain alters its prior ways of functioning and moves toward healthier patterns. For the neurofeedback client, they may start to sleep better or feel a bit less tension in the chest. The OCD client starts to reduce rituals, or has fewer ruminative thoughts, panic episodes start to decline, and fear over panic reduces. In general, fears and worries cause fewer problems in daily life, and there’s a lighter sense to life. All of these occur gradually and organically as the brain learns to go back to its natural, healthy state.

The bottom line is this: anxiety disorders need not be a permanent part of your life, or the life of those you love. There’s a reason to have hope now that does not involve lifetime of therapy or medication. Neurofeedback may be the answer you seek if you want the possibility of long-lasting change.

So, I invite you to call our offices now at (518) 606-3805 to set up a free consult if you want to learn more. Also, spend some time looking over the research on anxiety and neurofeedback at You’ll find that there are dozens of articles proving the efficacy of neurofeedback and reducing anxiety. This is really not in question. However, please note our clinic outcomes consistently exceed the results found in the research. We tend to get better results because our neurofeedback treatment is driven by the results of a quantitative EEG or QEEG. This is essentially a brain map which points to specific weaknesses or deviations in the brain, providing for very specific individualized treatment protocols. This is what makes the difference. The bottom line is if you want to learn more, please reach out to our offices. Dr Cale is available to answer questions and send you specific information if you want it. Please know that there’s a reason to be hopeful. There is light at the end of this anxiety-ridden tunnel and neurofeedback may be that light you’re seeking.

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