ANXIETY & DEPRESSION
Anxiety and depression, as with other cognitive and mental dysfunctions, are often just responses to stress. Whether the stressors are environmental, biological, or emotional, the brain responds in an effort to deal with it. This is a survival strategy that allows us to avoid dangers in our environment. But when the stress response is prolonged beyond its evolved ability, damage to function and structure ensue. Recent epidemiology findings and studies show that 50% of individuals in the US reported that stress negatively impacted their lives, and the WHO dubbed it the “Health Epidemic of the 21st Century”.
Anxiety is not just the feeling of being worried or stressed. in cases where the stressor is prolonged or extreme, can leave the individual with chronic feelings of worry and foreboding. This is one of the main characteristics of Generalized Anxiety Disorder as classified by the internationally recognized Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Depression is not just the feeling of sadness, sorrow, grief, or despair. When negative emotion is prolonged with an intensity that renders the individual incapacitated and unable to function in their personal life, it is considered to be clinically relevant and labelled as Major Depression Disorder, as defined by the DSM-5.
The study of brain waves (electorencephalogram/EEG) has had decades of research, and shown that there are unique features of brain wave activity that have a high diagnostic value for predicting anxiety and depression. Since anxiety and depression are both the common downstream effects of stress, the most well-known hallmark of the occurrence of either one, is in the presentation of what is referred to as “frontal Alpha asymmetry”. A specific ratio of Alpha and Beta brain waves between the left side and the right side of the frontal lobe, have been firmly associated with reports of anxiety or depression. There are also other EEG features of anxiety, such as excess of fast activity in central and midline regions of the brain, that have shown to be fairly consistent.
Unlike psychiatric medication, neurofeedback uses visual and auditory digital signals to reinforce a certain type of brain activity. This is done through a process known as operant conditioning, where patterns of neural activity are more permanently established, and retain their longevity long after the training.
Can neurofeedback be used in conjunction with medication for anxiety or depression?
Yes absolutely. Medication does not change the actual foundation of brain function, but influences a temporary state change that typically covers over the symptoms until the medication wears off. Neurofeedback does not influence a state change, as much as of the trait. Traits, unlike states, are more stable and enduring characteristics or patterns of behavior. EEG (brain wave) patterns reflect the stable and enduring characteristics of traits.This means that the EEG profile of depression or anxiety can be measured even in the presence of medication. The ability to measure EEG even in the presence of medication, implies that it can be trained by neurofeedback.
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