Direct Neurofeedback to Treat Anxiety

Anxiety and stress tend to go hand-in-hand, and both potentially can have harmful effects on mental and physical health. Urologist Dr. Jennifer Berman says she recently has been experiencing unusually high tension and anxiety in response to mounting pressures at work and home, so she decided to put a new experimental treatment to the test.

Known as direct neurofeedback, the individualized form of brainwave therapy is comparable to rebooting a frozen computer. Many neuroscientists believe that the brain’s defenses against stressors and trauma create neural gridlock. To restore optimal functioning, direct neurofeedback addresses the brain in its own electromagnetic language.

Electrical activity in the brain is first evaluated via sensors attached to the patient’s scalp. A tiny, corresponding signal is then sent back to the brain to essentially “un-train” how it reacts to stressful situations. "It basically resets the sympathetic nervous system," Dr. Berman explains. "So, that fight or flight reaction that we don't know how to shut off gets electrically triggered."

The actual treatment lasts less than a minute, but multiple sessions over the course of several months are recommended for optimal results.

Following her first treatment from neurofeedback specialist Dr. David Dubin, Dr. Berman says she initially felt somewhat nauseated and woozy. “Apparently, I got overstimulated, but within two to three hours of that, it was serene,” she says.

More research is needed on the long-term effects of electrical brain stimulation; however, direct neurofeedback has been shown to be effective in treating anger, depression and anxiety, particularly in patients with PTSD. In addition, it is being used to improve focus in people with attention deficit disorders and to enhance cognitive function in former athletes affected by head injuries.

 

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