Neurofeedback and Anxiety
Anxiety can be a natural response to the external environment. The problem comes when it starts to control us. When we get stuck in a pattern of anxiousness, the brain becomes hardwired for this anxiety. However, it can be fixed and become hardwired for optimal health.
While there can be a genetic component to anxiety, it has a lot to do with the environment. Children with anxious parents do have a predisposition to anxiety. But the external and internal environment also play a role, especially during the first 7 and a half years of life. Even in the womb during those very first stages of development, the mothers anxiety levels and environment can impact the child’s future ability to handle anxiety.
Anxiety is not necessarily always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s the brain’s natural response to a perceived threat. To help you survive this perceived threat, your brain will trigger the fight or flight response. The need to survive is a subconscious, innate instinct that is hardwired into our brains. It’s supposed to act like a positive feedback loop, which regulates your internal environment. Your anxious reaction yields a physiological event that causes a stress response. We should experience stress and then it should stop, allowing us to return to homeostasis.
This is different from a negative feedback loop which doesn’t know how to shut itself off. If you run from a perceived threat and then make it to perceived safety, your brain is going to connect the dots that running is what saved you. From then on, your brain will constantly be scanning your surroundings and whenever you are exposed to an environment that is similar to that perceived threat, your brain will trigger that anxious response and tell you to run. And thus, this pattern is continuously being practiced and you become stuck in the anxiety pattern. Overtime, It becomes more and more sensitive and reacts quicker and quicker.
A chronic stress pattern means that the stress response never shuts off and the pattern becomes burrowed into your brain. It becomes so entrenched that eventually it just becomes who you are. It can cause all sorts of issues because your brain is stuck in fight or flight and doesn’t have time for anything else.
This all happens in the amygdala, in the limbic system. It all happens before it even reaches the frontal lobe, so it does not allow for executive decisions.
This chronic stress pattern can happen to children too. They remember events from when they were in the key developmental stages before the age of 7 and are stuck responding to it. It becomes so embedded in their brains since it occurred in that developmental window.
Even things like video games can trigger this, since constant real-time feedback influences how the brain is wired. Especially for children, where the lines between real life and make-believe are more blurred. When you have to fight to survive in the game, the brain starts to tell itself that it has to fight to survive in real life. It can lead to increased anxiety.
How you spend your time, the feelings that you get when you are in different situations, the thoughts you have, that is feedback. That is how your brain looks at the world. Part of neurofeedback training is just bringing that awareness to the person.
You might not even realize that you are stuck in fight or flight, because it has become so everyday for you. You may not even know what it feels like to be calm and focused. If this pattern of anxiety has taken over your life, you have to get into a quieter state in order to know what it feels like. Some people don’t even know what it means, how it feels, to relax.
This is especially a problem for a child caught in a chronic stress pattern, as they don’t have a point of reference. If they’ve never experienced anything else, then they don’t have the ability to communicate the problem. They could be too busy being anxious that they don’t have time for traditional childhood activities that are crucial to developing their neuronal pathways.
No matter the age, your system can only take on this load for so long before it becomes fatigued. Before you lose motivation, and can’t pay attention to anything else. For children, it wrecks their ability to have developmental experiences. For adults, it paralyzes them in their tracks
There are many different ways that a person can get caught in this anxiety pattern, and many different symptoms as well. We all experience different things during our developmental windows and throughout the rest of our lives, so it makes sense that treatment should also be different for each individual. This is why neurofeedback is such a great tool.
Using equipment that can measure if you are in a chronic stress pattern, we can look at responses and see what’s going on in the brain and body. From there, Neurofeedback helps because it allows your brain to see these negative patterns, which allows it to fix itself. There has to be time for balance to be practiced in order for your brain to know how to do it. The way you change your brain is in real time, and you must have some feedback so that your brain knows what you’re doing.
Neurofeedback for anxiety is best used in conjunction with counseling and can also be beneficial when used with tools like guided meditation.
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