EEG Biofeedback Training for Anxiety and Panic Attacks
The most common use of biofeedback over the past twenty years has been in relaxation and stress management. This training 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 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.
We see anxiety as one manifestation of diminished self-regulation by the brain. The condition is often quite obvious in the EEG. The 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.
During EEG training for anxiety, the person is shown information derived from his or her EEG in real time, and is asked to bring certain aspects of it under control. This training repeatedly challenges the brain to improve its own internal regulatory processes. The training is not intimidating in itself because we adjust the level of difficulty to the situation.
As with other learning, the process is largely accomplished at a subconscious level. After all, we don’t generally have any awareness of the mechanisms by which the brain regulates its own activities. However, 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 EEG 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.
We find that most persons who undertake the training gain significantly in their ability to control anxiety and panic states, to the point that these no longer interfere with the conduct of their life. The learning that takes place leaves the brain in a better condition to operate calmly and stably. After completion of the training, which may take approximately twenty sessions (possibly more in severe cases), no continuing willful effort is required to control anxiety or panic. On the other hand, 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, if that should be necessary. Since the technique is based on learning, it is unlikely to require followup sessions after completion of the initial training sequence.