When is Anxiety a Problem?
Stress is a normal and natural response to challenges or frustrations that everyone experiences. Some people handle it better than others either due to their dispositions or the issues with which they are dealing. Anxiety, however, interferes with people’s daily functioning because the looping thoughts, feelings or behavioral symptoms are disproportionate to the real or imagined worry or issue. Anxiety can hijack the brain and, at times, make it difficult to think or act rationally. The spinning thoughts make it difficult for people to move on from the behaviors and feelings so they spend a lot of time combatting their brains.
What Symptoms Lead to an Anxiety Diagnosis?
Anxiety disorder symptoms look different in children and teens than in adults. Children often display their anxiety or worry behaviorally. For others, it may be more internal, with constant looping thoughts or negative thinking. The symptoms of anxiety can range from physical symptoms (anxiety stomach aches, anxiety headaches, nausea, vomiting, loose bowels, anxiety hives etc.) to internal worry (negative talk, social avoidance, etc.) to behaviors (rage, irritability, moodiness, rituals, etc.). One thing is for sure; no two people display anxiety in the same way.
Although everyone feels stress and gets nervous, people with a clinical issue maintain the same level of anxiety no matter what happens. Symptoms shouldn’t be ignored and the sooner they are addressed, the less likely a child or individual is to habituate to unhealthy behaviors.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
An Anxiety Disorder is a common mental health issue that occurs when children or adults experience feelings of uneasiness, worry, and fear that are not equal to the situation. According to research, the average age of onset of Anxiety Disorder is now age six. So, both children and adults can experience clinical anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t always have to be in response to a situation and can develop from intrinsic sources, genetic mutations and heritability, nutrient deficiencies, infectious disease, and toxic exposures. Additionally, anxiety is often comorbid with other diagnoses. For example, ADHD and anxiety are often diagnosed together.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition or the DSM-5 have specific criteria for each of the types of Anxiety Disorders that one must meet to be diagnosed with a clinical issue. A licensed mental health professional or a physician typically diagnose a child or individual through conducting a clinical interview.
What are Types of Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety can present with different behaviors and can also be categorized into seven distinct clinical syndromes. While Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is now a separate category in the DSM-5, it is still considered an anxiety problem.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Specific Phobia
- AgoraphobiaObsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
The most common anxiety treatment is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), has been shown through research to be very effective in addressing the symptoms associated with anxiety.
CBT practitioners believe individuals’ perceptions of a situation closely connect to their reaction and work through those misperceptions to bring relief. Helping children and teens address their faulty perceptions and negative thinking can mitigate the effect of anxiety, as well as give them lifelong tools to manage stress.
Psychotherapy is an effective tool not only for the child or individual experiencing anxiety but for the parent or spouse who is supporting them. Parents benefit from coaching that teaches them to manage their child or teen’s anxious behaviors and feelings. Moreover, they also benefit from having someone to support their stress, as it isn’t easy parenting an anxious child or teen. When someone is anxious, they can be irritable and irrational at times and the feeling of “walking on eggshells” is a stressful one for the parent and family. Coaching can help people learn appropriate mechanisms for anxiety and how to live with someone who has anxiety.
Other natural treatments for anxiety include:
- Neurofeedback Therapy
- Biofeedback Therapy
- Somatic Therapy
- Play and Expressive Arts Therapy
Why Medication Doesn’t Help Anxiety
Although anxiety medication may temporarily help with anxiety relief, they usually don’t address the root cause, as well as negatively reinforce avoidant behaviors instead of learning how to deal with stress and uncomfortable feelings.
Research consistently supports that psychotherapy, particularly CBT, is more effective in the long-term. The investment of time in working with a psychotherapist to address faulty thinking and behaviors results in improved quality of life, increased productivity, and long-term feelings of wellness.
How Does Neurofeedback Training Help Anxiety?
Neurofeedback is all about teaching the brain to self-regulate. When the Central Nervous System (CNS) becomes dysregulated, a variety of symptoms or behaviors can appear, such as anxiety, depression, memory problems, focus issues, and impulse control problems. With Neurofeedback, you learn to self-regulate, and anxious symptoms reduce.
Neurofeedback works at the subconscious level, which is control 90 to 95% of the time. Through a process of measurement and reinforcement, one learns to regulate their brainwave activity. Quite simply, one is reinforced for changing brainwaves at a subconscious level through the use of computers. This self-regulation calms the nervous system, reducing or eliminating symptoms. Almost any brain, regardless of its level of function (or dysfunction), can be trained to function better. Research has shown that the long-term effects of neurofeedback are stable over time.
Anxiety Neurofeedback Protocol
The first step in Neurofeedback is to have a QEEG brain map. Getting a QEEG is a non-invasive and painless process that involves a cap placed on your head, which has sensors that record the electrical activity of the brain. After a QEEG brain map, which is a process where EEG activity is recorded and statistically analyzed to see brainwave patterns, a practitioner can see both diagnostic information and design a protocol. In very simple terms, a quantitative EEG is a computer analysis of the EEG data. It is a visual way to see brain functioning in terms of brainwaves.
This EEG data is compared against a reference database of other people’s EEGs. The analysis identifies and highlights variations from the norm (average). For instance, the QEEG report could show any brain areas where there is too much or too little EEG activity compared to the norm. It could also show which areas are not communicating well with other areas. And more specifically, certain brainwave patterns are associated with certain neuropsychological functions and conditions. For example, someone with anxiety may show high levels of beta, a very focused brainwave, but too much activity can make one feel anxious or create an overabundance of inner communication resulting in looping thoughts or negative thinking.
After a customized protocol is designed to address your child’s or your own anxiety, Neurofeedback begins. As noted previously, through the use of computers one is reinforced for changing their brainwave activity from a dysregulated pattern to a more healthy pattern. The computer measures brainwave activity and then reinforces the brain with visual and auditory stimuli, typically a movie playing consistently with a ding for each time a pre-set goal is achieved. This process is very pleasant, and since the brain craves this simple reinforcement, it typically begins changing within a few seconds of commencement of the session. Through this process of reinforcement, the brain begins to regulate, and you see symptom reduction.
Most people require two sessions a week and the number of Neurofeedback sessions varies based on the person and particular issue. While some people notice a reduction of symptoms after the first session, most experience a gradual reduction of symptoms over time. Neurofeedback calms the CNS so that a child, teen or individual with anxiety can learn to manage stress in healthy ways.
There is an extensive body of research that demonstrates the effectiveness of Neurofeedback for those experiencing anxiety. For some 45 years, Neurofeedback has been proven effective, with minimal invasiveness and side effects. Combined with psychotherapy, these treatments address the CNS dysregulation and underlying feelings, negative thinking, and behaviors to produce lasting change.
If you are looking to support your own or your child’s anxiety in an effective and research-based manner that is also holistic, then consider Neurofeedback.
To make an appointment with Dr. Roseann for a QEEG brain map or to meet with one of our clinicians experienced with anxiety, social anxiety, selective mutism, OCD, phobias, and other anxiety-related conditions contact us at 203.438.4848 or email [email protected]
Dr. Roseann is a Psychologist who works with children, adults, and families from all over the US, supporting them with research-based and holistic therapies that are bridged with neuroscience. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and is a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS) and Epidemic Answers. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), Connecticut Counseling Association (CCA), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
©Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2019