The Science Behind Anxiety: How to Find the Right Treatment Approach for You
Do you find yourself constantly on edge, unable to relax? Do worries and fears consume your thoughts, making it hard to focus on anything else? If so, you may be one of the millions of people who suffer from anxiety. Understanding the science behind anxiety can help you find the right treatment approach for your anxiety. Anxiety is not just a temporary feeling of nervousness; it is a complex mental health disorder with various underlying causes. In this article, we will discuss the science behind anxiety, identify the different factors that contribute to its development, including genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors.
By understanding the science behind anxiety, you can gain valuable insights into why you experience anxiety and how to manage it effectively. We will also discuss different treatment approaches, from medication and psychotherapy to neurofeedback therapy and alternative techniques. With this knowledge, you can take control of your anxiety and find the right treatment approach that is best suited for you.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions characterized by excessive and persistent worry, fear, or nervousness. There are several different types of anxiety disorders, each with its own set of symptoms and treatment approaches. The most common types of anxiety include:
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This is characterized by excessive worry and fear about everyday situations, People with GAD often find it difficult to control their anxiety and may experience physical symptoms such as restlessness, muscle tension, and fatigue.
2. Panic Disorder: Panic disorder is characterized by recurring unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden episodes of intense fear or discomfort. These attacks can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, and dizziness. People with panic disorder often live in fear of having another panic attack.
3. Social Anxiety Disorder: Also known as social phobia, this disorder involves an intense fear of social situations. People with social anxiety disorder may avoid social interactions or endure them with extreme anxiety. They often fear being judged or embarrassed in public.
4. Specific Phobias: Specific phobias are characterized by intense fear and avoidance of specific objects or situations. Common phobias include fear of heights, spiders, flying, or enclosed spaces. These fears can be irrational and may interfere with daily life.
Understanding the different types of anxiety disorders is essential for finding the right treatment approach. Each disorder has its unique symptoms and triggers, and tailored treatments can be more effective in managing anxiety symptoms.
Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are more than just excessive worrying or occasional nervousness. They are complex conditions that involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. Let’s take a closer look at the science behind anxiety to gain a better understanding of its underlying causes.
The Science Behind Anxiety: Neurotransmitters and Brain Chemistry
Anxiety disorders have been linked to imbalances in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are responsible for carrying messages between brain cells, and an imbalance can disrupt normal brain function.
With anxiety, an out of balance brain leads to brain over arousal or brain under arousal. Brain over arousal indicates the brain is overactivated, making you feel “ramped up” as if you have had too much caffeine. Brain under arousal is a sign the brain is under activated, or too slowed down, often leading to chronic worry, and unknowingly keeping busy to constantly stimulate the under activated brain.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders can manifest in various ways, and the symptoms can vary from person to person. Common symptoms of anxiety include:
1. Excessive worrying: Feeling worried or on edge most of the time, even when there is no apparent reason for concern.
2. Restlessness and irritability: Feeling restless, agitated, or easily annoyed.
3. Sleep disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or having restless, unsatisfying sleep.
4. Difficulty concentrating: Trouble focusing on tasks or feeling easily distracted.
5. Physical symptoms: Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, stomachaches, and fatigue.
Recognizing these symptoms is crucial in seeking the appropriate treatment for anxiety.
Factors that Contribute to Anxiety
Anxiety disorders can arise from a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. While everyone experiences anxiety to some degree, certain factors may increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
1. Genetics: Research suggests that anxiety disorders can run in families. If you have a close family member with an anxiety disorder, you may be more likely to develop one yourself.
2. Environmental factors: Traumatic events, such as abuse, neglect, or the loss of a loved one, can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders and stressor related disorders, such as PTSD. Chronic stress, exposure to violence, or living in an unstable environment can also increase the risk.
3. Brain chemistry: Imbalances in neurotransmitters can disrupt normal brain function, leading to brain over-arousal or brain under-arousal, which can play a significant role in the development of anxiety disorders.
4. Personality traits: Certain personality traits, such as being shy or tending to be overly cautious, may increase the risk of developing anxiety disorders.
Understanding these contributing factors of anxiety can help individuals and healthcare professionals identify the root causes of anxiety and develop effective treatment plans.
Finding the Right Treatment for Anxiety
Managing anxiety requires a personalized approach. What works for one person may not be the preferred method for another. Treatment options for anxiety disorders can include anti-anxiety medication, psychotherapy, neurofeedback therapy, lifestyle changes, and alternative techniques. Let’s explore these treatment approaches in more detail.
Medications for Anxiety
Medications can be prescribed to help manage anxiety symptoms. Commonly prescribed medications for anxiety include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and benzodiazepines. SSRIs and SNRIs are antidepressants that can also help reduce anxiety symptoms. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that provide short-term relief from anxiety but can be habit-forming and have potential side effects.
It’s important to note that medication should be prescribed and monitored by a healthcare professional, as they can determine the appropriate dosage and duration of treatment based on individual needs.
Psychotherapy for Anxiety
Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, can be an effective approach for treating anxiety. The best psychotherapy to treat anxiety can vary depending on the individual, the severity of their anxiety, and the contributing factors of their anxiety.
One of the most well-known and commonly recommended psychotherapy to treat anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to anxiety and replacing them with more positive and realistic thoughts. Cognitive behavioral therapy also includes various techniques and strategies to manage anxiety symptoms, such as relaxation exercises and exposure therapy. This approach typically involves homework and working to understand the thoughts creating or contributing to the emotions and feelings of anxiety.
Another highly effective evidence-based therapy for the treatment of anxiety is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
Different than CBT and other therapies, EMDR therapy does not require detailed descriptions of traumatic events, directly challenging our thoughts, or extensive homework between sessions. EMDR relies on both psychological and neurological processes. It aims to help the brain and mind work together to digest emotions and sensations more directly, helping the person process ‘stuck’ information that is causing/contributing to their symptoms.
A combination of therapy and medication can be effective for some individuals, particularly for those with more severe anxiety. It is important that individuals seek professional help from a licensed therapist or psychiatrist to determine the best therapy approach for their specific needs.
Neurofeedback Therapy for Anxiety Disorders
Neurofeedback therapy, or EEG biofeedback therapy, is a non-invasive treatment approach that works by training the brain directly. It uses real-time displays of brainwave activity to aid the brain in learning to improve patterns contributing to anxiety symptoms.
Common issues addressed by neurofeedback are brain over-arousal and brain-under arousal, (the brain is running too fast, or too slow).
Sensory motor rhythm neurotherapy training can help the brain recognize the need to slow down, making everyday stress easier to manage. An alpha-theta protocol can also improve an over aroused brain, while a beta-biofeedback helps teach the brain to speed up which helps calm an under aroused brain. A thorough evaluation by a licensed therapist coupled with sophisticated research-based neurofeedback software provide the necessary information to create the right protocol for you.
Not all neurofeedback is equal. Emerald Coast NeuroFeedback, the leader in biofeedback therapy in Northwest Florida, has locations in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach, Fl, and have extensive experience in the treatment of anxiety with neurofeedback therapy. They start the process with a thorough evaluation of your symptoms by a licensed therapist and utilize the most research-based software and protocols.
Pamela Downey, MS, Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Emerald Coast NeuroFeedback, has this to offer about neurofeedback’s place in the treatment of anxiety disorders, “Psychotherapy and many of the alternative approaches in treating anxiety have a lot to offer. However, even as a psychotherapist myself, it has been my experience that, overall, neurofeedback offers the most efficient, safe, lasting foundation in the treatment of anxiety disorders. And while I always support and encourage a personalized approach and complimentary modalities, there is just no substitute for what neurofeedback can do and how it does it.”
A safe and natural approach with long lasting benefits, neurofeedback therapy for anxiety teaches the brain without chemicals. Neurofeedback may be supplemental or an alternative to other treatments that may have been ineffective, including psychotherapy and medication. A combination of neurofeedback and EMDR therapy may be recommended for overcoming anxiety. While under an MD’s supervision, many people can either reduce or, in some cases, stop medication after successfully completing the necessary number of neurofeedback sessions.
Alternative Treatments for Anxiety: Meditation, Exercise, and Relaxation Techniques
In addition to medication, neurofeedback therapy, certain lifestyle changes and alternative techniques can help manage anxiety. These include:
1. Meditation: Practicing meditation techniques can help calm the mind and reduce anxiety. These practices involve focusing on the present moment and accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment.
2. Regular exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity can boost mood, reduce stress, and alleviate anxiety symptoms. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain.
3. Relaxation techniques: Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery can help relax the body and mind, reducing anxiety symptoms.
These alternative treatments can be used alongside traditional therapies to enhance overall well-being and reduce anxiety.
How to Find the Right Treatment Approach for Anxiety in Summary
Understanding the science behind anxiety can help in finding the right treatment approach for your specific needs. Anxiety disorders are complex conditions with various underlying causes, but they can improve and even be eliminated with the right treatment approach. Whether it’s psychotherapy, medication, neurofeedback therapy, lifestyle changes, or alternative techniques, finding the right treatment approach for your specific type of anxiety is important.
Neurofeedback therapy is a safe alternative to medication for treating anxiety and can be used in conjunction with other treatments. By taking proactive steps to manage anxiety, you can reduce distressing symptoms and regain your quality of life.
Now that you have a deeper understanding of the science behind anxiety and the various treatment approaches available, reach out to Emerald Coast NeuroFeedback for a no obligation phone consultation with a licensed therapist who can assist you in understanding the best treatment approaches for your anxiety.