A frequently asked questions when clients call about doing neurofeedback to help with their anxiety is: how many neurofeedback sessions will I need? I start by saying, "Every brain is different so we can't predict for certain, BUT there are some key dos and don'ts that we have a significant impact on how quickly you'll notice changes.
Below are our tips for how to get the best results from neurofeedback, (regardless of presenting symptoms):
Give Up the Worrier Personality
Tell yourself (and believe it!) that you are ready to be a calm, grounded, person with mental clarity. One of the surest cues that the client will have a successful experience, and notice the changes sooner (in less than five sessions) is when they come into my office and say, "I'm tired of identifying as an anxious person." "I'm done with worrying all the time." "I'm ready to relax and be less charged all the time." And the oposite is true: 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 its 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!"
Why is this true? The mind and the brain work together and one affects the other. The neurofeedback will show your brain in real-time that it's in an anxious state or the 'fight flight' response and once it see that patterning 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.
Get Started With Neurofeedback
Don't worry though, with the neurofeedback training, the brain is learning 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 breath 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. In one study, participants wrote daily about events that they were grateful for and in 10 weeks were noticably more content with themselves and were exercising more (another mood regulator!)
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.
What is the Best neurofeedback system & How to get started?
After many months of research, we chose the NeurOptimal® Dynamical Neurofeedback equipment by Zengar, which improves brain functioning without side effects.
At Neurofeedback Training Co. you can either schedule a session at one of our locations or rent an advanced neurofeedback system. When renting, you'll train with the same technology used in our clinics. Renting will also save you in overall neurofeedback cost and is the most conventient option, especially for families..
At our NYC location, we also offer combined therapy and neurofeedback sessions!
Not sure what options is best for you?
Find Out If Neurofeedback Can Help Your Anxiety.