Anxiety Treatment using Infraslow Neurofeedback
Imagine you are walking along the street with 101 things on your mind. “Did I reply to that email?”, “Did I remember to lock the car?”, “Did I pay that bill?”. You step off the sidewalk to cross the street and a car comes to a screeching halt only inches from you. Immediately you have goose-bumps, you feel sick to your stomach and you feel that awful adrenaline rush that you’ve felt before. You are lucky to walk away from the near-accident, but you just can’t shift that sick feeling from your stomach.
While you may not have lived through this exact scenario, you have likely had a similar experience resulting in your body reacting in the same way; muscles tensing, butterflies in your stomach and the uncomfortable feeling of adrenaline in your system. Now imagine feeling like this all the time. For some people this is a daily reality which can happen in many anxiety disorders from generalized anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How can we train our brain to not cause these reactions?
Chronic anxiety can be treated by training the brain through neurofeedback and more specifically by Infraslow (ISF) neurofeedback. There is now direct evidence that ISF neurofeedback training as an anxiety treatment can produce relaxation and relief.
A recent study measured a subject’s physiological response to ISF neurofeedback training using Biofeedback equipment. It was found that during training, the subject’s blood pressure normalized, heart rate slowed, breathing became slower and deeper, hands became dry and warm and the big shoulder muscles (trapezius) relaxed. These are all direct indications of a relaxation response.
In a separate study, subjects experienced a deep sense of well-being that was measurable by psychometric testing.
Why do our bodies react in the first place?
It’s all to do with the Central Autonomic Network (CAN) which the brain uses as a regulating system to control behavioural responses. The components that make up the CAN are the emotional regulation system; the circulatory system; the network of the brain that preserves the sense of self; and the behavioural network that triggers the fight, flight or freeze response.
A person becomes aware of a threat via the sensory organs (eyes, ears etc) and processes the event via the CAN. The fight, flight or freeze response becomes the dominant behavioural network when the threat is real or perceived as real. It suppresses the other behavioural networks as a necessary tactic to ensure survival.
What if the fight, flight or freeze response is constantly active?
Chronic activity of this behavioural network can make a person respond to routine events as if they were life-threatening.
People living under constant stress or who experienced stress during their developmental years may have a dysregulated CAN.
How can ISF Neurofeedback help treat anxiety?
Early research showed infraslow frequencies play a central role in the stress response. ISF helps to coordinate electrical activity in the brain and facilitates communication between and within the behavioural networks.
Due to the importance of infraslow frequencies, ISF feedback is a powerful tool to help with anxiety. Research and clinical practice shows key regions of the CAN can be trained using ISF neurofeedback. Clinical results show increased relaxation, deep physiological changes, improved sleep and a renewed sense of well-being in day-to-day life.
For more details on this topic, check out this article by Mark Smith of Neurofeedback Services in New York.