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Anxiety is a Physiological Problem and Not Just in Your Head

in Anxiety, Brain Health, Neurofeedback by Ray McGarty

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorders among adults and children. Each year roughly 18% of adults and 25% of children and teens are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder each year. Despite the shockingly high number of people affected by anxiety, only about 36% will seek treatment. Not only are anxiety disorders incredibly common, but they are on the rise. More and more children, teens and adults are reporting struggling with anxious feelings. Although anxiety can be a rather complex ailment, it is actually highly treatable. So, what’s going on with anxiety? How does it affect the brain and body and what can you do about it? Luckily, anxiety can be managed in several ways!

Believe it or not, anxiety itself is a perfectly normal experience. It is your body’s stress response, a natural process that occurs when faced with a stressor. Everyone experiences anxiety and everyone experiences it a little differently. For some, they experience racing thoughts or their brains feel always “on.” For others, anxiety can be very physical, a tightening in the chest or racing heart and for many people, anxiety is a combination of the physical and mental components. So how is it that this emotion can impact the body and the brain so powerfully?

The body has 10 major, interconnected systems that keep everything running smoothly. Anxiety impacts over half of these systems:

  1. The Nervous System (including the brain)
  2. The Cardiovascular System
  3. The Respiratory System
  4. The Digestive System
  5. The Excretory System
  6. The Endocrine System (hormones)


When someone is experiencing anxiety, the brain, and central nervous system are constantly perceiving threats and keeping the body in “fight or flight” to deal with the perceived danger. During Fight or Flight, the muscles need more oxygen, so the heart has to beat faster to meet the increased demand. When the heart is beating faster, it sends a signal to the lungs to bring in more oxygen, so breathing becomes quicker and shallower. Now that some of the major systems are working harder, the excretory system will cause sweat, to keep the body cool during this increased activity. The digestive system is then turned off to conserve energy for the other systems that are working harder and the endocrine system gets turned on. The endocrine system detects that the body is under stress, so it produces more cortisol and norepinephrine to keep the body revved up and ready for action. So it is easy to understand that with chronic anxiety, the body is under constant stress and is physically unable to relax. This is incredibly taxing, both physically and mentally. Eventually, the brain will begin to slow down, but instead of going to a normal baseline, it will actually slow down further and present as depression. This is one of the reasons depression and anxiety are so often seen together.

As we can see, anxiety is a rather complex issue, it doesn’t only impact the mind, it recruits the whole body. So how do you treat something that is so systemic?

Luckily, anxiety is one of the more treatable psychiatric conditions. With so many treatment modalities, there is almost an infinite way to combine treatments to find the best protocol for each individual.

  • Diet and Exercise: what you eat has a huge impact on how you feel. If you’re struggling with anxiety, take a look at your sugar intake or think about cutting out gluten. Exercise is also a great way for your body to use excess cortisol in a functional way and releases endorphins which can help make you feel better and allow the body to relax more.
  • Neurofeedback: neurofeedback training directly impacts the autonomic nervous system (ANS), your “rest and digest” system. Regular training teaches the brain and ANS to operate more efficiently and not be in constant fight or flight. Because anxiety starts in the brain, training the brain targets the root cause of the anxiety and can even make other treatments more effective.
  • Therapy: having a therapist to help with the cognitive aspect of anxiety can be a profoundly helpful experience.


Anxiety can be a lot of things, but a permanent struggle isn’t one of them. If you think you struggle with an anxiety disorder, reach out and talk to someone.

-McGarty and Associates




Stress, Cortisol, and Sleep

in Brain Health, Neurofeedback, Sleep, Training, Uncategorized by Ray McGarty

Sleep and stress often go hand in hand. A lack of sleep can cause stress, and stress can cause a lack of sleep. a Study done in 2007 found that 7 out of 10 adults in the U.S. experience stress every day and 70% of those adults have trouble sleeping. 75% of those not sleeping well also reported increased anxiety and stress. It can turn into a vicious cycle, with insomnia being both the cause and the result of stress. But what is stress? What’s going on in our bodies that prevents us from falling asleep? First, let’s define what we’re calling stress – stress is anything that triggers a stress response in the body. The stress response is fight or flight, an increased release of cortisol. The stress response can be triggered by something physical, emotional, psychological or a combination of several factors.

Cortisol itself has the potential to keep you up, it keeps the body alert, slows the production of sleep-inducing melatonin and doesn’t let the brain shut down. Cortisol gets a bad reputation, we almost exclusively think of it as the “stress hormone” and while that’s true, cortisol is actually a major player in most bodily systems. When cortisol is at an optimal level, we feel energized and great, but when cortisol is dysregulated we feel irritated, fatigued, unmotivated and anxious. Cortisol has a profound effect on our very biology, from our endocrine system (our hormones), insulin (regulates blood sugar), our sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone). If that wasn’t enough, cortisol levels impact our digestion, immune system and even the neurotransmitters in our brain.

Cortisol imbalances contribute to almost every illness and disease. Keeping cortisol on track is incredibly important for our health and one way to make sure the cortisol cycle is humming along as it should is by getting enough sleep. We want our cortisol levels to be lowest at night when we’re getting ready to sleep. This is because cortisol is the signal to keep your body alert and energized. When cortisol levels are higher, melatonin levels are lower.


People with insomnia may not have a regulated cortisol cycle. Cortisol should be highest when you first wake up, to energize you enough to get out of bed and get moving. Then cortisol levels should steadily decrease throughout the day until they are at their lowest night. People with insomnia may have higher cortisol levels throughout the day, their cortisol may not decline much at all. Higher cortisol levels keep the body and mind in a state of hyperarousal and this hyperarousal is what prevents relaxation and sleep.

What to Do if You Think You Have Cortisol Imbalance

  1. Find a naturopathic doctor who will do cortisol level tests. You get blood drawn 3-4 times over the course of the day to see if your cortisol cycle is functioning as it should. You can also ask them about adrenal fatigue and strategies to help support your adrenals.
  2. Do some diet and lifestyle changes near bedtime. Put the screens down, eat foods that promote sleep and make your bedroom calm and peaceful
  3. Neurofeedback can help regulate sleep. All hormone production begins in the brain, with the pituitary gland. Since neurofeedback can directly train how the brain functions, you can start treating the root cause right away.
  4. meditate before bed, taking the time to pause and breathe deeply, send signals to your brain that you are safe and can help shut down the fight or flight response. It is incredibly important to take some time each day to let your brain relax and help your body follow suit.


Cortisol is an incredibly important hormone, but when left unchecked, it wreaks havoc on our sleep. But sleep helps regulate our cortisol levels. So if you’re not sleeping, you wind up in a vicious cycle that only leads to even less sleep and even more stress. But there are ways to combat it. Meditate, get your cortisol levels checked, improve your sleep hygiene!


Sweet Dreams!

McGarty and Associates.



Are You Making Sleep a Priority? Here’s Why You Should Be

in Brain Health, How-To, Neurofeedback, Sleep by Ray McGarty

Most of us know that getting enough sleep is vital to our well-being. We’re happier when we feel rested, we have more energy to do the things we want to do. But, sleep does so much more than just replenish our energy. Getting enough sleep is essential to a healthy hormone cycle, cortisol cycle, and if that wasn’t enough, sleep can even impact how much we eat! It’s true – studies have found individuals who sleep 6 or fewer hours a night are on average eating an extra 385 calories a day. And not just any calories, they’re craving carbs and sugar because their brains think they need the quick fuel to get them through the day. That means lack of sleep alone contributes to someone eating an extra 2,695 empty calories per week.

We know that the amount of sleep is important, but what how good your sleep is? The quality of your sleep is almost more important than the amount you’re sleeping. If you’re getting 7 hours of poor quality sleep, you’re still not sleeping enough.  Good, quality sleep is hard to come by in this day and age. With so much artificial light, long schedules and the societal drive to “be busy,” sleep quality isn’t high on everyone’s priority list. But it should be. In order to have truly restful, restorative sleep, you have to progress through all stages of the sleep cycle, but most of us aren’t.

Join us this month to learn about why you should be making sleep a priority and what you can do to get better sleep. We’ll cover the things you’re doing that are keeping you awake, tips for improving your sleep space and how neurofeedback helps with insomnia. So stay tuned to get all the information on sleeping your way to better health!


Here are 5 things you can do today to get a better night’s rest:

  1. Sleep in the Dark – I know this seems obvious, but there are some many light-emitting electronics and devices in our rooms! Hide the cell phone, turn off or cover anything that emits light. Both your eyes and your skin have photoreceptors that can detect light and sends information to your brain that isn’t time to sleep yet. Our brains produce melatonin when it’s time to wind down and sleep, but when there are light sources being detected, the brain won’t make the right amount and when there’s less melatonin, there’s more cortisol, which is the stress hormone. So, sleep in the dark!
  2. 1-Hour Screen Rule – no screens 1 hour before bed. Our brains are amazing and complex organs, but they struggle to tell the difference between natural daylight and the artificial blue light coming from our phones and other devices. We love our devices, they entertain us, but they’re also keeping us awake. You just need one hour before bedtime to start sending the right signals to your brain that it’s night, it’s time to start winding down. So send the last emails, texts and check facebook for the last time one hour before bed.
  3. Read Fiction Before Bed – Since you no longer have your phone to look at, what are you going to do before bed? Read. Studies have shown that reading fiction for even 6 minutes slows the heart rate, calms the body and has a relaxing effect. Why fiction? Because it stimulates our creativity, it isn’t introspective and it doesn’t activate our brains in a way that causes us to worry. Fiction is usually light, entertaining and fantastical. So read a good story before bed.
  4. Snuggle – If you share your bed with a significant other – snuggle them! Snuggling and being close to those we love stimulates the brain to release oxytocin, our “love hormone,” but this signals to the body that it is safe and allowed to relax. Snuggling a pet also releases oxytocin. If no one is around, you can still benefit by doing easy self-massage. Rub your temples, or between your eyebrows. Touch stimulates the release of oxytocin.
  5. Light Exercise – 5-10 minutes of easy exercise when you WAKE UP in the morning, will improve your sleep the following night. So have your coffee, or your tea, wake up a little and then do some light stretches or some bodyweight exercises. When you first wake up, your cortisol levels are highest (because your melatonin levels are lowest), exercise can produce endorphins, which you feel better and it gets the blood moving, which stimulates the removal of waste. So improving your sleep actually starts in the morning!


Sweet Dreams!

-McGarty and Associates

Brain Healthy Dinner

in Attention and Focus, Brain Health, Peak Performance, Recipe by Ray McGarty

Hello, all! With cold New England weather still upon us, I thought this would be a great time to share two delicious recipes that will fill you up and boost your brain health. What we eat plays a huge role in how well our brain functions. So this first dinner is packed with protein, which is a key component in being able to create neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Serotonin. Essential fatty acids which help protect the brain, and work as anti-inflammatory agents. AND the blueberries in this recipe can actually help boost both long-term and short-term memory!

Salmon with Warm Blueberry Compote



  • 2 fillets of salmon
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa (or farro, or other grain)
  • 2 tsp. avocado oil
  • 1 cup kale
  • 2 tbsp. toasted pumpkin seeds
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 1 tbsp. avocado oil
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • 1/2 tbsp. dijon mustard


  1.  preheat oven to 400 F
  2. season salmon with salt and pepper
  3. in saute pan, heat avocado oil, cook salmon skin side down until skin is golden
  4. flip salmon and plan in the oven for 10-12 minutes
  5. add compote ingredients to a small saucepan and cook on low-medium heat until blueberries break down
  6. make sure the cooked quinoa is hot, mix in the kale to wilt
  7. take salmon out of the oven, serve over quinoa and kale and spoon warm compote over the top
  8. enjoy!


The second recipe is a hearty and warming soup which is easy to adapt to several flavors. We’re featuring a spiced soup because spices like turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon provide brain healthy micronutrients and act as anti-inflammatory agents. Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to Vitamin A, which boosts cognitive function and can protect against cognitive decline. Carrots also have a healthy dose of Vitamin C!

Spiced Carrot Soup



  • 2 tbsp. avocado oil
  • 1 large yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 pound carrots
  • 2 1/2 cups broth (home-made bone broth is best)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • coconut milk to loosen


  1.  Heat oil in a large saucepan, add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes
  2. mix in carrots and saute until soft and starting to brown
  3. add broth and spices, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes
  4. remove from heat and blend until smooth. (If using a regular blender, blend in batches, if using an immersion blender, blend away!)
  5. Stir in honey, lemon juice
  6. add coconut milk to desired thickness
  7. salt and pepper to taste
  8. enjoy!


There you have it! Two easy dinners full of brain healthy nutrients to keep you sharp.