Study: Neurofeedback shown to Reduce Anxiety
Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and separation anxiety disorder, are the most prevalent mental disorders. Anxiety disorders follow a chronic course; however, there is a natural decrease in prevalence rates with older age. Anxiety disorders are highly comorbid with other anxiety disorders and other mental disorders.
The way Western medicine has treated anxiety in the past has been somewhat problematic- the class of drug most often used is tranquilizers which are a temporary solution at best, and can actually cause anxiety as they wear off. It is also well known that these drugs can also cause dependency, making them controlled substances that come with a no driving or operating heavy machinery warning.
It’s clear we need a new treatment model moving forward if we hope to gain any ground with a disease that affects so many people in the modern world.
In a recent study a neurofeedback protocol was shown to effectively reduce anxiety in 26 healthy subjects with high anxiety . The protocol was designed to enhance connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in the presence of a threat. Subjects showed a subjective reduction in anxiety as well as an objective change in neural pathway regulation in these two brain structures (as measured by fMRI).
At the follow-up, control over the target pathway was maintained in the absence of feedback. A follow-up to the study showed participants able to regulate their own brains in the presence of a threat stimulus without using neurofeedback, suggesting neuroplastic brain changes resulted from the neurofeedback training.
Real-Time Functional Connectivity-Informed Neurofeedback of Amygdala-Frontal Pathways Reduces Anxiety Zhao Z.a · Yao S.a · Li K.a · Sindermann C.b · Zhou F.a · Zhao W.a · Li J.a · Lührs M.c · Goebel R.c · Kendrick K.M.a · Becker B.a
Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century Bandelow B, Michaelis S. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2015 Sep;17(3):327-35. PubMed PMID: 26487813; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4610617.
Neurofeedback Prevents PTSD in Soldiers
New studies on military personnel are revealing that soldiers can learn to control their stress response and downregulate parts of their brain involved in the processing and storage of trauma. The study examined whether soldiers can learn to reduce their stress levels to perform better in combat situations and modulate the long term effect of traumatic experiences.
Concerned about the scalability of the technology, which is often done with fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), an expensive technology that requires a large machine to utilize, researchers used EEG (Electroencephalogram) to measure the effects of the neurofeedback treatment.
EEG measurements targeted the amygdala, a brain structure that regulates fear, stress, and oversees the processing of trauma. Previous research identified the so-called amygdala electrical fingerprint (Amyg-EFP), which was used in this study as a reference point to measure stress down regulation in the nervous system.
180 healthy soldiers undergoing stressful military training received either neurofeedback or the sham control and the results were measured with EEG and subjective reporting. Soldiers receiving the real neurofeedback were able to downregulate the activity in their amygdala as well as increase the connection between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, another measure of lower stress.
Reduced alexithymia (the inability to identify and describe emotions experienced by one’s self or others) and faster emotional Stroop (an emotional assessment that examines the response time of the participant to negative emotional words) were observed, indicating better stress coping.
The implications for this research are far reaching and it may present interesting ethical considerations down the road.
Electrical fingerprint of the amygdala guides neurofeedback training for stress resilience Jackob N. Keynan, Avihay Cohen, Gilan Jackont, Nili Green, et. al. Nature Human Behaviour volume 3, pages 63–73 (2019)