02 Aug 2012

Anxiety and Neurofeedback: Guest Blogger , Natalie Baker, LMHC

Anxiety is a problem of misperception. Misperception is a brain problem, and specifically an automatically functioning brain problem. What’s the misperception that we call ‘anxiety’? Our brain perceives immediate danger—there is a bear about to attack us, like, right NOW—and so we better do something. And that ‘bear’ could be a co-worker, a taxi, food, spouse, and the list goes on….

In the last 30 years we’ve learned a lot about the anxious brain, thanks to a large part, to advances in technology such as the rMRI. We now know that the limbic brain, or ‘fight/flight’ brain is in charge of producing an anxious response. It is a basic, and most important, function of our brain so the problem isn’t that we have this response, but that we have it AT THE WRONG TIME.

What we have come to understand is that the brain gets habituated. Just like if you go to a foreign country, but are going to stay in the same place for a few weeks, at first everything is a new experience—finding breakfast, a bank—but then we become familiar and start developing routines. That cute bakery we discovered the first day, is now the spot where we have breakfast every morning.

Like that route to the bakery, so too our brain develop neuro-pathways and begins to just ‘go down’ those pathways out of habit or ‘efficiency’. As if it is saying, “Oh, I know this situation and how to respond,” when it has only taken a superficial glance, and isn’t perceiving it accurately. Your co-worker is not a bear about to eat you, or that food going to kill you. (And if you just mentally responded to reading this with “Ya, but…..” then you for sure, are working off of an anxious brain response.)

What to do about it?

There are many ways to help the brain and help alleviate the anxious symptoms—talk therapy, drug therapy, biofeedback, meditation, lifestyle changes—and also a new type of therapy called neurofeedback. Neurofeedback alone or in conjunction with talk therapy, can be a very effect—and fast—way to address anxiety.

Neurofeedback, or EEG biofeedback, is an offspring of biofeedback. Biofeedback is using a machine to illicit information about automatic functioning of the body, such as heart rate, to then use that information to consciously change the body’s functioning, such as by breathing more slowly to lower the heart rate.  In neurofeedback training, the computer gathers information about the brain’s automatic (and often dysfunctional) activity and feeds or mirrors back that information in a way that will elicit the brain’s organic self-correcting behaviour.  (Unlike in biofeedback, in neurofeedback there is no conscious action made to affect the change. It is the automatic brain “communicating” with itself.)
NeurOptimal neurofeedback works by training the brain to use the present moment to decide what to do next, rather than old, often maladaptive patterns—like that route to the bakery. It does this by triggering what’s called the orienting response, which is the brain’s ability to sense change in the environment and take in new information about what is different. (This is the mirror mentioned above.) And based on what it accurately perceives about the present the brain shifts its functioning. An analogue is to ask yourself the question: what’s the best way to decide what type of coat to wear today: by reading today’s weather report, or last month’s or (even one from three decades ago!)?

For more about neurofeeback and our practice go to: www.neurofeedbackny.com. We are also running a promotion for new clients: first three sessions are half-off ($50/session regularly $100/session).


Thank you Natalie for your wonderful input and work!

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