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Treat Anxiety by Changing Your Brain

Anxiety is becoming commonplace in our society. In a day and age where everyone is on the go, scheduling meetings so frequently that we forget we should probably eat at some point during the day, and with the constant feeling of being overwhelmed with worry about a dozen things, people have begun to think that worry is as common an emotion as happiness. This is not the case.
Back in the days of cave men, there was no technology, no need to constantly be accessible, no scheduled deadlines and no mandatory lunches with the boss. Worry only occurred during famine or a threat to safety. Our bodies were built for this level of stress. Stress was generally infrequent or short in duration. As we have evolved our ability to reason and the development of abstract thought has lead to a prolongation of stress. Now, stress is not only when we are threatened but also when we perceive a threat. This perceived threat does not have to be real, in proximity or actually even a real threat. We can lay in the safety of our own bed and worry about 1 million other things. Now we can expose ourselves to chronic stress, and tax the body with levels of stress it was never meant to cope with.

For those well versed in anxiety and the research associated with it, none of this is new news. But, did you know that chronic stress can actually change your pattern of brain waves making it more difficult for you to relax? Its true. Very simply put, when you think anxious worrisome thoughts, you are creating anxious worrisome brain wave patterns. Over time these patterns strengthen and become permanent. Now, this leads to the chicken and egg theory. Some can argue its biology, and “I’ve always been an anxious person”.  Did the anxious thoughts lead to anxious biology or did anxious biology lead to anxious thoughts? It can be argued either way. However, what is fact is that regardless of the etiology, anxious thinking strengthens anxious brain wave patterns.

Now, what are you going to do about it? The most commonly accepted treatment for anxiety is relaxation techniques which include mediation and yoga. These work because they train the person to control their thoughts and bring them to a relaxed state of mind. Its safe to say that if anxious thoughts change the brain, then relaxed thoughts will result in biological changes as well.

Biofeedback is another great treatment for anxiety. Biofeedback involves monitoring biological systems (i.e., heart rate, blood pressure etc) and displays it for the patient. The patient is then taught how to bring these systems down, using breathing, meditation or other techniques. They can practice relaxation with visual feedback of their body systems, until they have mastered the behaviors.

Another effective (although less heard of ) is neurofeedback treatment. This treatment uses EEG technology to hook the patient up to a computer where their brain waves are mapped and monitored. Brain patterns are selected as ‘targets’ so that when the patient produces them they are rewarded. For example, if you are trying to reduce anxiety in a patient, you would reward their brain with a positive tone when they show a more relaxed pattern. Over time the brain is trained to produce more relaxed brain patterns which results in a more relaxed patient. This process is continued until the new relaxed patterns are well learned by the brain, ensuring that they will remain after treatment has stopped.

Neurofeedback has been around for decades, and has been used in various settings including research and therapy. It is becoming more common in recent times most likely because technology has made them more cost effective and transportable. It has developed as an effective, nonpharmaceutical treatment for many disorders such as ADHD, cognitive dysregulations, emotional dysregulations and more. Insurance companies even understand the benefits of this treatment and have begun to cover the expenses. With time, it may be a common practice to use neurofeedback as a regular alternative to pharmaceuticals. A holistic approach to the mind and body is always best as a first approach, and neurofeedback has shown to fit well into this model of thought.


Till then, continue “Discovering Your Own Way”…


– Dr. Brennan

Treat Anxiety by Changing Your Brain

Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D.

Dr. Brennan attended Rutgers University, and graduated with a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology. She also completed a Master of Arts in Psychology at Pace University. Upon completion, she began a doctorate program at Argosy University completing a Master's of Arts and Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. Currently, she is an adjunct instructor for a community college, co-founder of the non-profit organization Little Hands International, and developing her own psychology clinic. Trained in the Practitioner-Scholar model, Dr. Brennan works with clients using empirically supported techniques such as CBT, ACT, and BFST. She specializes in treating anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders.

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APA Reference
Brennan, M. (2014). Treat Anxiety by Changing Your Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Aug 2014
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