Mental Health
How Neurofeedback Can Help With Anxiety

How Neurofeedback Can Help With Anxiety

5 min read


Alyssa Petersel

Are you wrestling with anxiety? The following -- courtesy of Neurofeedback Training Co, -- may help you understand how Neurofeedback Therapy can help you ease your way into more calm. These tips help progress come sooner.

Give Up The Worrier Personality

Tell yourself that you are ready to be a calm, grounded, person with mental clarity.  The more we are ambivalent about giving up our anxiety, the slower the progress.  Common anxious thoughts we believe are, "But anxiety is my mo-jo and it's what makes me get things done." "The world IS a dangerous place and I do have to be on guard." "My life is a problem." "If I don't think about my problems all the time, they won't get done!"

The mind and the brain work together and one affects the other. Neurofeedback can show your brain in real-time that it's in an anxious state. Once it sees that pattern, it will start to shift out of it because that reaction is only meant for revving up to attack or run from an immediate real, body-harming threat.  When the 'threat' is a thought: 'my boss is going to kill me' the mind will arouse an anxious brain response depending on how strong our belief is that the thought is true. But as the brain shifts down into a regulated, "no threat" state, if the mind shifts up and we believe the "freak out" anxious thought that's arising, we will start to re-arouse the brain into anxiety as well.  

Through neurofeedback training, the brain can learn to come out of the stress response when there is no physical threat present.  And the brain is a powerful decider and will keep trying to gear down out of anxiety because it's a huge energy waster and without eminent danger, the brain will choose gearing down over staying in hyper-arousal, even when our minds are ambivalent!  And, interestingly, the language we use organically starts to shift as well.  "My boss is going to kill me" over the training turns into "My boss is going to be upset."  You can track your language to see the changes in your brain's arousal.


You may think this is a simplistic, and therefore, not very effective directive--breathe--but my clients who practice breathing consciously, slowly and deeply make faster progress than those who ignore their breath and/or don't have a mindfulness practice (formally or informally.) Why is the breath so important?  Just stop and notice your breath right now.  If you're generally anxious, you'll probably notice that your breath is up at the top of your chest and more rapid.  You may even notice that you breath then hold your breath then breathe again.  Shallow breathing is what the anxious brain does and when we consciously shift the breath to slow and deep we are telling the brain indirectly to shift out of the stress response and into the relaxation response.  Stopping a few times a day and connecting with your breath, even if it's just for 3 minutes or doing a guided breathing exercise, is helping your brain re-regulate, and boosting the neurofeedback training.  Here's a list of good apps for guidance.

Replace Worrying Thoughts With Accurate Thoughts, And Grateful Ones!

Another supportive outcome of mindful breathing is that the practice takes our attention out of our thoughts and into our immediate experience.  This action of placing our attention away from our thoughts cuts the unhealthy feedback loop that happens when we are chronically anxious. The brain sets the fight/flight response in motion, which perfumes our thinking so we start fixating on worrying thoughts, which then reinforces the body staying in that anxious state.  We can interrupt that pattern by consciously focusing on generating accurate thoughts.  Here are pointers on starting to consciously direct our thoughts.

  • Take the mind out of futurizing thoughts into present moment thinking. Ask yourself: what's happing in this very moment? Don't worry that it sounds "obvious" or "stupid." Spending just one minute focused on describing the present has an impact on re-orienting out of the anxious pattern. It may sound something like, "In this moment I am reading an email on my computer. I can hear my colleague talking on the phone in the next room. I am breathing shallowly. I am slightly hungry. I am planning the evenings' events now. I am uncrossing my legs." Future thoughts tend to be fear-based and problem-based. Present moment thoughts help the brain "see" that there is no reason to go into fight/flight as well as cutting the mind/brain feedback loop.
  • Start a gratitude practice. We will focus on what is brought to our attention. Studies show that focusing on gratitude has a positive impact on our emotions.

Think Of Your Brain Training As One Tool Among Many

During intake, when I ask clients what they are doing to change their anxiety and they say, "I went to my doctor and I don't want to take medication so I'm going to try neurofeedback for my anxiety" a red flag goes up in my mind when the list stops there.  

It's the old Western medical logic that there is a "pill" that will fix the ailment and the rest of our behaviour can stay the same. The model is changing and physicians are recognizing that it doesn't serve the patient to that there's only one medical intervention required.  The reality is that there is much in our control that is medicinal (or harmful).  For example, the research has definitively concluded that regardless of what condition you suffer from, lifestyle, specifically how much stress you have in your life, significantly impacts the body's functioning.  As does sleep.  If you chronically sleep less than seven hours a night you are increasing your likelihood of being ill more frequently in your later decades.  

The medicine that heals illness is a holistic approach and includes diet, sleep, exercise (best proven anti-depressant out there) and lower exposure to stress.  Neurofeedback is an essential and effective training for alieviating anxiety AND it works best when the brain and mind are given the other supports in conjunction: a healthy diet, regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, and annual blood work and check up by an integrative doctor.  

Thank you for reading with us today. We hope this post was insightful for you.

As always, keep in touch and let us know what you think. Any topics you'd like to read more of? Reach the team at [email protected].

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About the author

Alyssa Petersel, Co-Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing and author of Somehow I Am Different, graduated from Northwestern University in 2013 with dual BA degrees in psychology and international studies, graduated summa cum laude from New York University in May 2017 with her Master's in Social Work, and graduated from The Writer's Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in May 2017. A native New Yorker, Alyssa now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.

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