The following is an excerpt about neurofeedback and panic attacks from an article I wrote titled NeurOptimal® and Anxiety. You can download the full article here.
This is a manifestation of anxiety that is particularly unpleasant and very, very physical. Panic attacks can cause increased heart rate, palpitations and chest pain. Often sufferers end up in the local hospital emergency room thinking they are having heart attacks. Feelings of choking, nausea, dizziness, numbness, chills, hot flashes, the list of things someone with panic attacks may experience is long.
The very first client I met who had panic attacks was especially unhappy. Panic attacks themselves and the fear of setting them off were running his life. Five or six years previously Martin had been in a weather-related car accident in which he was injured – not severely, fortunately, but he had to wait a long time for help. The weather had created more emergencies than could be responded to quickly.
Martin’s body recovered quickly, but the accident stayed with him in the form of panic attacks. At first he had attacks of intense fear, sweating and heart palpitations only when in a car during stormy weather. Then he began feeling at least the beginnings of an attack every time he was a passenger or the driver. As is common, Martin started avoiding the triggers. Then he started having panic during other, seemingly random circumstances. Two or three times a week he woke in the middle of the night sweating and terrified.
A common treatment for panic attacks is the prescription of anti-anxiety medications. Sometimes just carrying the bottle in pocket or purse is enough comfort to ward off the panic. That wasn’t helping Martin, and he was concerned about long-term use. He also wanted to be able to drive a car with comfort again.
His therapist suggested neurofeedback. Martin was willing to try anything. He’s a high achiever, and the hardest part of the panic for him was the way it was affecting his work. His avoidance of cars and taxis had been noticed, and he couldn’t always find a workaround. Martin was hoping that would change first. His brain, however, decided to first correct the sleep disruption. Martin came in reporting that he was sleeping through the night but asking “When will it help me at work?”
The central nervous system has its own priorities, and sleep is very often at the top of its list. Martin’s panic attacks at work and elsewhere gradually decreased in intensity, frequency and duration (the big three we look for in assessing change). Eventually, he stopped avoiding situations that involved four wheels.
When Martin decided he was done training, he had gone from a high of four or five big to small panic attacks a week to none in two months. When I checked with Martin six months later, it was still none, including when he had to drive in inclement weather. Martin was confident that his panic days were over.
If you have questions about neurofeedback and panic attacks or anxiety in general, please ask either here on the blog or email me confidentially.
Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW
New York Neurofeedback