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Managing anxiety with biofeedback
Worrying is natural. In some cases, anxiety can be beneficial, such as before a big sports event or dance recital. However, some of us are overwhelmed by worry on a daily basis. The worry becomes excessive and can interfere with daily tasks. The anxiety or panic felt is gripping for those who have experienced it.
Having an anxiety disorder is difficult and frustrating. It is considered a silent killer and most people who see you upset will just say “calm down” or “stop worrying so much” and not truly understand.
The feeling anxiety creates and the worried thoughts it causes do not have an immediate “off” switch.
The good news is there is a simple, non-drug treatment for the management of anxiety: biofeedback.
The most common types of anxiety disorders are:
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- panic disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- social anxiety disorder (SAD)
- specific phobias
Although each anxiety disorder is unique, there is a common thread. The loop of anxiety often looks like this: worried thought -> physiological response -> more worried thoughts -> heightened response.
The physiological response is due to adrenaline and other stress hormones rushing through your body, creating the fight-or-flight stance, regardless of any real threat. The threat is almost always perceived and irrational, and the individual is usually aware of this. Anxiety can cause you to feel “out of your mind,” suffocated, scared, upset, stressed, and not in control.
Anxiety is due to environmental causes, genetics, and personal experiences. A common trait among those who have anxiety disorders is the person’s need for control. When the desire to control a situation feels out of reach, this can trigger anxiety.
Highly sensitive people also can experience anxiety in the presence of an overload of stimuli. For example, a person might become overwhelmed and experience panic if they are at a club with loud music, strobe lights, and crowds of people. Even something as harmless as a grocery store can trigger an anxiety attack due to the amount of choices available.
Symptoms vary for each person. They can range from wanting to throw up or wanting to escape, to feeling exhausted, to having migraines, to feeling tense and scared, to feeling like your head is way up in the clouds.
Treating Anxiety Symptoms with Biofeedback
Managing anxiety symptoms is on the path to treating it. For many who suffer from an anxiety disorder, they will usually tell you that it never goes away, but they have learned to control it so that the symptoms are less overwhelming.
Biofeedback therapy is a highly effective research-based treatment for anxiety disorders. The individual is taught how to properly respond to their anxiety and it is one of the ways he or she can learn how to manage and control it without the use of medications.
Biofeedback gives the anxious person the opportunity to view his or her physiological responses to stress. When a person becomes anxious, some of the changes that will be displayed visually and audibly with the use of noninvasive instruments are:
- increases in heart rate
- hands becoming cold and clammy
- rapid or shallow breathing
- skin temperature
- muscle tension
- EEG showing higher activity for hi-beta waves in the brain (these waves increase when the mind is stressed)
- loss of metabolic activity in frontal lobe (showing higher activity in the emotional centers of the mid-brain)
Biofeedback teaches awareness, profound relaxation skills and ways to manage an anxiety attack, as well as ways to recognize, reduce, and control stress responses. It also teaches the individual how to control the brain’s activity and maintain the proper brainwave levels to achieve a calm and focused state. By returning the body to a healthier physiological state, the “foggy head” that anxiety can cause, as well as the feeling of fear and panic throughout the body, are removed.
Beck, A. T. (2005). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective. Basic Books.
Moore, N. C. (2000). A review of EEG biofeedback treatment of anxiety disorders. Clinical EEG (electroencephalography), 31(1), 1.