Do you ever experience persistent worry? Find yourself at night with your mind racing? Are you by fear of making the wrong decision?
If so, you might be dealing with extreme anxiety.
Anxiety is common in our day-to-day lives and we all experience it at different times. It’s a normal emotional response to a stressor, such as being laid off from work, making a presentation or having a fight with our spouse. In these situations, anxiety spikes and then fades as our circumstances change. We resolve the conflict with our spouse, we begin to interview for new jobs, or we get a raise at work.
However, when anxiety becomes extreme or chronic, it can feel disabling, negatively impacting our relationships, job performance, and physical well-being.
How is extreme anxiety treated?
There are several approaches to managing anxiety, including therapy, medication, and mindfulness. More than 8 percent of Americans take anti-anxiety medications, sleep aids, or sedatives. While these can be effective, they often come with side effects, which can range from mild to severe. In addition, some medications are accompanied by significant withdrawal symptoms, which can make getting off of them tricky.
Mindfulness meditation has become a popular, non-medication intervention for treating anxiety. Meditation helps disrupt anxious thought patterns by calling your attention to the present moment. It helps you observe, rather than react to, your thoughts. The meditator may think “I notice I’m anxious about money” rather than “I can’t pay my bills.” This detachment from the thought helps the nervous system calm down. Over time, this practice of detachment allows us to choose how we react to a stressor.
Similar to meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, and other mindfulness activities such as drawing or journaling, can help keep the mind focused on the present, where it gains some relief from anxiety.
In the therapeutic realm, cognitive therapy has long been a primary intervention for anxiety. Cognitive therapy involves reframing problematic thought patterns (ex: sometimes couples argue and it’s ok vs. my spouse is going to leave me if we fight) and core beliefs (I am loveable vs. I don’t deserve to be loved).
Depending on the source of the anxiety, body-based psychotherapies can be effective in changing the nervous system response to therapy. Body-based psychotherapies work with body sensations, posture, movement, and perception in processing nervous system responses, emotions and thoughts. For example, you may feel anxious but not realize you’re shaking your foot. Your therapist may use the foot shaking, rather than your thoughts, to learn more about your anxiety.
Neurofeedback: Rewiring Your Brain
An emerging approach to treating anxiety, among other mental health conditions, is neurofeedback. Neurofeedback can change your response to anxious triggers by rewiring your brain. This is done by sensory input that tells the brain when it’s overreacting. Your brain uses this input to changes its behavior. It’s not unlike a blinking sign on the road that tells you you’re over the speed limit and need to slow down.
In a neurofeedback session, you as a client sit in front of a computer playing a game or watching a TV show. The therapist will place electrodes on your head to monitor your brain waves.
As you watch the screen, the program may move from vivid to fuzzy, become brighter or darker and the screen may get wider or narrower. The action may slow down or speed up. These are all cues to your brain to do “more of this or less of that.” Over time, the brain learns the right balance.
As a client, this process takes place outside of your awareness. You just sit and watch the screen. However, your brain learns how and where to adjust its behavior. Your therapist may check in once or twice about how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing during the course of a session. Otherwise, the treatment is largely silent.
Neurofeedback can either be done on its own or in conjunction with other therapy. A neurofeedback therapist can help identify what approach will be most effective for you. Please contact us at the Viva Center to learn more or make an appointment with a neurofeedback therapist.
There are many options for treating anxiety, including therapy, meditation, and medication. Neurofeedback is a new but growing option that is based on the latest science about how the brain works.
Neurofeedback trains your brain to function in a calm and balanced state and can be used with both children and adults. It can be used on its own or in combination with other approaches. If you have persistent anxiety, consider neurofeedback.
Regina Tosca, LICSW, is a therapist and Neurofeedback practitioner at the Viva Center in Washington, DC. She works with people experiencing grief and loss, including loss of companion animals, as well as anxiety, depression, and trauma. Other blogs by Regina include “Grieving the Loss of a Pet” and “The Power of Mind-Body Approaches in Trauma Recovery.“