Thu, August 22, 2013
How Can Neurofeedback Help My Stress?
Stress comes to us in many forms, from someone cutting us off in traffic to our boss coming in and telling us we no longer have a job, and many other degrees beyond that.  How we cope with stress is impacted by genetic, environmental, and situational factors.  These can range from a “calm under pressure” response, to a full-tilt overwhelm at the slightest of stressors.  For some this can launch a “shutdown”, panic attack, or raging frenzy.
 
Let’s explore a fun fact about the brain that may help to explain overwhelm responses. The amygdala is a little almond-shaped mass deep in the brain, and it acts as a sort of “smoke detector” to signal other body systems into gear when fear or stress is felt.  Initially, it may alert a person to a stressful situation so they can take appropriate steps to deal with what has happened.  In more severe cases, the amygdala triggers more intense physiological responses, like racing heart, dilated pupils, rapid breathing, tightened muscles, etc., often what is known as a fight-or-flight response – a primitive response in animals and humans to keep their organs safe under imminent danger.
 
The problem is when these more extreme physiological (and emotional) responses become chronic (constant), or when they are more and more easily set off.  At this point, it can be hard for a person to settle down, even with interventions like meditation, therapy or medication.  A chronically stressed person can develop what are called “cortical patterns” in the brain – almost like little trenches that get ingrained into staying in the fear response.
 
So, what’s exciting is that Neurofeedback can help to settle the brain and nervous system, so that the brain (and the person!) can become a bit more resilient and less reactive to fear and stress.  How does it do this?
 
We all have electrical activity going on in the brain, all the time.  Researchers have identified several types of “brainwaves” that need to be more or less balanced in various ratios throughout the brain.  Imbalances can create dysfunction in behavior, mood, physical and cognitive performance, and can also effect pain.   For example, stress can be indicated by too much high-frequency activity in the brain in various locations.  In an office session, we can use the Neurofeedback equipment to measure and monitor a person’s brainwave frequencies, so that they can learn to produce better combinations of them.  (Imagine being hooked up to a device that gave you constant feedback about your heart rate.  In time, and with a little instruction, you could learn to lower your heart rate.  This is the same with brainwaves.)  With practice, their brain and nervous system begin to “relax” and “settle” more and they tend to become less stressed, and less set-off by things. 
 
Initially, there can be a “push-pull” in the brain…we teach it to relax, it wants to do what it’s been doing so long, which is be stressed!  So it will try to pull back to that mode, but with repeated sessions and practice it learns to hold the more relaxed patterns, and positive changes are typically long-term.  Many clients are able to find for the first time in their life what it feels like to “relax”, which gives them a better chance of returning to this state, and hope for a more settled way of being.
 
We hope this has helped to explain a little more about how Neurofeedback can help with stress.  The same imbalances in brainwaves that effect stress can also be at play in a wide range of other physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral symptoms.  Neurofeedback is becoming more and more known in helping to address symptoms of sleep, pain, rage, focus, trauma, and much more.  Stay tuned for more blog entries, as we speak to some of these other symptoms and how Neurofeedback can provide some relief.
 
Do you have any questions after reading this article?  We’d like to know!  Feel free to write to us here, or e-mail us at Gretchen@mmneuro.com.

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