Cherie Jewell: Neurofeedback: A successful treatment of depression and anxiety

By Cherie Jewell

Anxiety? Depression? Or both?

Anxiety and depression disorders are not the same, although in many ways they are similar in our brains. Depression generates emotions such as hopelessness, despair and anger. Energy levels are usually very low, and depressed people often feel overwhelmed by day-to-day tasks, as well as personal relationships.

A person with an anxiety disorder, however, experiences fear, panic or anxiety in situations where most people would not feel anxious or threatened. The sufferer may experience sudden panic or anxiety attacks without any recognized trigger, and often lives with a constant nagging worry or anxiousness. Without treatment, anxiety and depression disorders can restrict a person’s ability to work, maintain relationships, or even leave the house.

Despite their differences, both anxiety and depression treatment are similar, which may explain why the two disorders are so often confused.

In a study, 85 percent of those with major depression were also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, and 35 percent had symptoms of panic disorder as well as other anxiety disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Where is the connection? There has been a ton of research that documents how depression and anxiety are both associated with an imbalance of the right and left pre-frontal cortex. A large number of brainwave (EEG) studies have demonstrated that the left frontal area is associated with more positive emotions and memories, and the right hemisphere is more involved in negative emotions.

When there is a biological predisposition to depression, the left frontal area is less activated. This means that such individuals are less aware of positive emotions while at the same time being more in touch with the negative emotions that are associated with the right hemisphere. Neurofeedback provides physiological assistance to balance these areas of the brain. Using neurofeedback to train the brain will help develop the skills needed to reduce or eliminate anxiety.

Can anxiety and/or depression be treated without medication? The latest research has shown that medication is only mildly more effective then placebo in treatment of depression and anxiety. In treating these conditions, neurofeedback offers an effective alternative, permanent treatment with zero side effects.

How does neurofeedback work? Neurofeedback sessions begin with first getting what is called a “brain map” using a QEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalograph). This non-invasive study is easy and is often completed within 45 minutes. Based on your brain map results, you are given two protocols to follow. These protocols are designed to train your brain by moderating your response to stress so that anxiety and depression is minimized and occurs less frequently. With sufficient training, your brain permanently learns to maintain healthier patterns on its own more consistently. Neurofeedback is like exercise or physical therapy for the brain.

What is a neurofeedback session like? Typically, a protocol recommends between 20 to 40 sessions. During a session, a sensor will be placed on both sides of your head and ears. You sit in a comfortable chair and watch your favorite TV show or movie. Neurofeedback uses audio and visual cues to change timing and activation patterns in the brain. As the session starts, you will hear and see occasional “skips” that only last a second in the video you are watching. This is the signal that prompts your brain to “reset” and optimize itself. Neurofeedback training is non-invasive. We are not shocking the brain; we are reinforcing when the brain wave’s function in an optimal fashion for the task at hand.

Neurofeedback is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to teach people how to help themselves, and it’s completely non-pharmaceutical. It has been used for many years with solid, proven results. Completing neurofeedback can decrease the need for dependence upon medications and improve quality of life by teaching the brain to make healthier patterns on a more consistent basis. The brain will learn how to decrease anxiety and depression while allowing your mood to improve.

Cherie Jewell is a neurofeedback technician at the T. Murray Wellness Center. For more information about neurofeedback or to schedule and appointment, visit the website, or call (603) 447-3112.