Neurofeedback Training for Anxiety and Panic Attacks

The most common use of traditional biofeedback (EMG-biofeedback) over the past 30 years has been in relaxation and stress management. For many years in psychology and even some progressive rehabilitation centers, traditional biofeedback was used to alleviate neck and back pain, TMJ (jaw popping), Bruxism (teeth grinding), incontinence and many more musculature disorders.

Although these techniques are still used with great success today, neurofeedback is being used more and more in combination with biofeedback (NeurobiofeedbackSM) for alleviating these problems. Neurobiofeedback is probably the most effective, non-invasive, pain-free and drug-free way to deal with anxiety and panic attacks available today. The main reason being is that there are absolutely no medications being used and therefore the patient becomes empowered to make and sustain the changes, thereby becoming more prepared to handle and cope with the next round of life.

Neurobiofeedback is useful principally with various anxiety states which can be worsened by stressful situations. Anxiety states include such reactions as panic attacks and phobias at one extreme, and such problems as performance anxiety and stage fright on the other. When the person is challenged to perform in some way, the brain reacts by overly heightened vigilance that actually undermines its own ability to function well. This problem can compound itself, as the person becomes anxious, observes himself or herself becoming anxious, and becomes even more anxious. At a time of future challenges, the anxiety response can be more readily kindled because of the memory of earlier failure to perform. The result is panic and/or anxiety. This is essentially tantamount to getting in your own way.

Once anxiety becomes familiar to you, it is difficult to make conscious change, as we are creatures of habit. The good news is that this condition is highly responsive to brainwave training. By challenging the brain to regulate itself better, it subsequently also functions better under life’s normal (and unusual) challenges. Once the brain has been trained to self-regulate the mechanism by which it gears up for the challenges it faces (the regulation of physiological arousal), then the brain is no longer as vulnerable to the downward spiral of anxiety. In other words, once you learn how to ride the bike, without the fear of falling, you no longer fear falling, thus getting out of your own way and riding the bike.

During Neurofeedback training for anxiety, the patient is evaluated with a quantitative EEG (qEEG), which allows the clinician to see specific brainwave patterns that may be consistent with anxiety. After being identified as a candidate for Neurofeedback, the patient is shown information derived from his or her brainwave tracings as they are occurring. This is the feedback portion of the process that allows the patient to understand and make appropriate changes required to achieve success. Then the individual is asked to allow some time to experience the process and how the brain automatically seeks to accomplish the goal of “winning the game.” This is the same process that you went through when you learned how to ride a bike. Once you figured out how to get out of your own way and eliminate the fear of falling/failure, you learned how to ride the bike and have not forgotten since. This training repeatedly challenges the brain to improve/restore its own internal regulatory processes, which in turn allows the patient the opportunity to be “in control” once again. The degree of difficulty is begun at a level which will ensure early success, eventually becoming increasingly difficult, until the individual becomes proficient.

As with other learning, the process is largely accomplished at a subconscious level (a level of consciousness that is associated with remembering phone numbers and other important information that must be accessible with ease). There is also some reason to believe that there is some involvement with the unconscious mind as well (a level of consciousness that is associated with long-term memory). After all, we don’t generally have any awareness of the mechanisms by which the brain regulates its own activities. This is essentially done for us via the Autonomic Nervous System, which is the system that regulates blinking, breathing, digestion, etc. If we had to monitor and control these activities, we would not have time for anything else. The good news is that we do have the ability to “tap” into this system and blink when we want, breath faster or slower, etc. This means that we can also, with “feedback,” learn how to regulate and even modify our own brainwaves. This also supports that this process is not entirely subconscious and/or unconscious. Rather, there may very well be some conscious awareness of changes taking place as the training proceeds. For example, the trainee will usually observe times when the brainwave pattern reflects existing anxiety states. The trainee then brings his skills to bear to bring these states under control. As mastery improves, the person gains confidence in his ability to control and regulate these states. The improved level of confidence further supports the process, and allows the person to work at a higher level of difficulty.

The Institute finds most patients who participate in the training gain substantially in their ability to control anxiety and panic states, to the point that these states no longer interfere with their everyday life. The learning that takes place leaves the brain in a better condition to operate calmly and with stability. After completion of the training, which may take approximately 20-40 sessions (possibly more in severe cases), no continuing willful effort is required to control anxiety or panic. In addition, the training will also have given the person skills that can be consciously employed to aid in shifting to a more relaxed and appropriate high-performance state, which can even be employed for say sports or another form of “peak performance.” Since the technique is based on learning, it does not require follow-up sessions after completion of the initial training sequence.

If you would like more information about how The Institute may be able to help you, please feel free to contact us at 248-828-2770 to learn more about your options.

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2 thoughts on “Neurofeedback Training for Anxiety and Panic Attacks”

  1. I’m interested in neurofeedback and do some researches in this area, one of my students has panic attack and he wants taking part in one of our researches (in which SMR protocol without inhibiting high Beta is used). Can he take part in it? And which protocol will be useful for him?
    If you answer my question I will be appreciated
    Sincerely yours


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