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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.

 

 

Neurofeedback and Migraines

in Migraine, Neurofeedback by Ray McGarty

Before beginning neurofeedback I had been having migraines that regularly caused me to miss out on “life”. It was very discouraging to have to cancel events, be unable to perform my daily tasks, and hide out in a dark and quiet room. I had tried both traditional medicines and natural remedies with no success.On the day of my first neurofeedback session, I had a particularly bad migraine and had to have my daughter drive me to the appointment. I could barely manage to string words together into sentences and smiling felt like the last thing I wanted to do. By the time the session was over, I was able to hold a conversation and even smile with little effort. Not only did my pain decrease by several points on the pain scale, but the nausea and light sensitivity went away as well. An added bonus was that the migraine went away much more quickly than usual. My migraines had been lasting an average of 46 hours each. After 4 months of neurofeedback, the length of my migraines is now an average of 27 hours.I am getting migraines far less frequently now and they are far less severe. When I do get a migraine, I go see Jacquie and my pain levels drop very quickly. I am then able to go about my daily life and not miss out on all the things I used to miss out on.I am very hopeful that in the near future that I will no longer get migraines at all and that my neurofeedback sessions will be solely preventative.Neurofeedback has given me back my life. I am beyond thrilled. Thank you so much, McGarty & Associates!

H.P.

Migraines. A word that is too commonly used to describe a bad headache. But for those who do suffer migraines, the word conjures up the feeling of debilitating pain and days of being unable to function. With migraines being the third most common illness in the world, chances are that you or someone you know suffers from migraine attacks.

But what are migraines, what causes them and why do they happen? Despite how prevalent migraines are, it is still unclear what definitively causes migraines. There is a growing body of research that is finding there is a genetic component to migraines, and that each migraine sufferer has their own specific migraine triggers. Those triggers may be a combination of things from food, lights, hormones, and those triggers may change over time. Some migraines come from the over-use of certain medications, even those designed to treat migraines. It is also important to note, that none of the current medications prescribed for migraines, were developed to treat or cure migraines, they just happen to alleviate some of the symptoms.

With so many compounding factors that cause or trigger migraines, treatment can be confusing to navigate.  Can migraines be treated and eliminated in a manner that not only stops one in its tracks but prevents future migraine attacks from happening altogether? The answer is yes, with regular neurofeedback training.

Neurofeedback is a powerful tool for treating, preventing and eliminating migraines by training the brain and central nervous system to operate harmoniously. Regulating the brain improves communication with the hormonal output system, keeps the central nervous system in check and eliminates migraines.

 

What is a Migraine?

Migraines are intense headaches that may be accompanied by any of the following:

  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light/sound
  • Sensitivity to smells
  • Changes in vision

Individuals with migraines have a more sensitive nervous system. In such individuals, the nerve cells of the brain are more easily triggered into abnormal activity. This activity spreads throughout the brain. Various functions and sensory modalities, such as vision, balance, muscle coordination and speech are temporarily disturbed. These disturbances trigger the symptoms that precede a migraine.

What Causes a Migraine?

Although there is no one cause for a migraine, doctors and researchers agree that there seems to be an underlying central nervous system disorder.

A migraine occurs when the 5th cranial nerve is stimulated and sends pain impulses to the eyes, scalp, forehead, mouth, and jaw. When the nerve is stimulated, the blood vessels of the brain become inflamed – which leads to a throbbing headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light.

 

Why do Women tend to have more migraines?

The predominant female sex hormone, estrogen, appears to trigger migraines. The rising and dropping of estrogen levels throughout a woman’s cycle can trigger a migraine. Hormone production and release is regulated via a communication loop that starts in the brain, so an efficient brain and central nervous system is key.

 

How can Neurofeedback Help?

Neurofeedback can stop or ease a migraine while it is occurring, but more importantly, regular training can be a preventative measure. Regular training helps the central nervous system operate in a more efficient and regulated manner, which leads to the decrease in number and frequency of migraines. Often, migraines will be completely eliminated.

For migraines with a hormonal trigger, neurofeedback allows the brain and the hormonal control center (HPA Axis) to communicate more effectively and operate more efficiently.

Contact us today for more information or to set up a consultation