Neurofeedback for Teen Anxiety in Katy, Texas & the Houston Area
Your teen appears stressed all the time. They have worries that they can't get off their mind. Some of the worries seem to be over small things but seem to have a big impact.
Your teen complains of stomach aches, headaches, muscle tension or other physical complaints. You've taken them to the doctor and they cannot find anything physically that would explain the symptoms.
You've noticed that your teen's grades have started to decline. You find them procrastinating and they are frequently missing assignments.
Your teen is having a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep at night. You've noticed a change in eating habits and their confidence and self-esteem seem to have waned.
Your teen is not being as social as they used to be. They seem to avoid certain people or situations.
Your teen may have tried therapy for their anxiety and have had mixed results. Medication seems to have helped but the struggle with anxiety still remains.
You don't want to have your teen take medication and your are exploring other options on how to help your teen.
If you are a parent of a teen who is struggling with anxiety, you know the challenge of being able to help your teen. Teen anxiety is a complex struggle that doesn't listen to reason or logic. It is a purely emotional reaction from a part of the brain that doesn't think logically, in fact, the anxiety, or fear network of the brain, doesn't think at all -- it just feels and reacts!
As parents, we try to help our teens by reasoning with them. We provide concrete facts to help them see that there isn't anything to worry about. Most of the time, the teen will agree that the anxiety is irrational but that fact doesn't seem to help it go away. The facts aren't connecting with the emotion is seems.
Below, we take a deeper dive into the complexity and different types of anxiety. We also look at neurofeedback and how neurofeedback can help with teen anxiety. Below is a Table of Contents for your reading convenience
Table of Contents
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Anxiety is a Complex Struggle
Teen anxiety can present in many different ways all with different intensity and severity. Anxiety tends to not go away on it's own.
As parents, it can be hard sometimes to tell if it's just normal teenage development/phase or if it's something more significant. Teens with anxiety tend to not outgrow but grow into anxiety. The teen years is the ideal time to tackle this complex challenge so that it doesn't follow them into their adult lives.
So how do we know if it's not normal teen development/phase and it's something more serious? To start, we need to know the types of anxiety teens experience and the signs and symptoms of each.
Below are the various categories of teen anxiety and the symptoms from Health and Human Services (HHS):
We all have experienced anxiety. That pesky voice in the back of our minds causing us to worry, fear, or stress over some event. Typically, that event is a future event. A big meeting that is coming up. An important exam that you have to take. Speaking in front of a group of people. Can't you just feel that spike of anxiety rising?
The difference between normal anxiety and Generalized Anxiety is that normal anxiety goes away. Normal anxiety tends to leave us once the anticipated event is over.
Generalized anxiety tends to stick around. It wakes up when you wake up. It hangs out with you during the day. It's there, when you are trying to go to sleep, creating fears and worries that keep you up at night.
Those who experience Generalized Anxiety tend to experience excessive anxiety or worry more days than not. The anxiety and worry can interfere with the teens normal functioning. Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety are:
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety can include:
Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
Being easily tired
Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
Having muscle tension
Physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches, etc.
Difficulty controlling fear or worry
Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep
Panic (Anxiety) Attacks
Not all teens with anxiety develop panic attacks. Yet, there are some teens who do.
Panic attacks are recurrent and unexpected. It's a sudden period of intense fear that hits fast and usually reach their peak within minutes. Panic attacks are triggered by specific situations or objects related to that situation.
With panic attacks, the fear center of the brain interprets a situation as dangerous or life threatening. This fear center puts the body on high alert and releases stress hormones and adrenalin to prepare the person to fight or run (this will be discussed in greater detail below).
The fear center of the brain isn't the logical reasoning part of the brain. It's the part that has developed to protect us from injury or death.
It usually doesn't matter how much self-talk we do in the moment to convince the fear center that there is nothing to worry about. If the fear center has interpreted the situation as dangerous, it's already encoded the memory, sensations, sounds, smells as something to be feared.
Now when the person sees, hears, smells, or experiences similar situations, the fight or flight process starts all over again. The body and thinking part of the brain are hijacked and panic ensues.
This causes the person to worry about if or when the next panic attack will occur. Teens will often avoid people, places, or things that remind them of the panic attack out of fear of having another.
Symptoms of Panic Attacks
Symptoms of panic attacks can include:
Feeling of impending doom
Feeling like you are going to die
Feeling of being out of control
Mind going blank
Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
Trembling or shaking
Sweating and clamminess
Rapid heart beat, pounding heart beat, or heart palpitations
Social Phobia (Social Anxiety)
Phobias are something that many of us are aware of and have knowledge about. The 1990 horror comedy movie Arachnophobia brought the fear of spiders to the large screen and provides a ready example of a phobia -- arachnophobia.
Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. Thinking about arachnophobia logically, we really should have no reason to be afraid of spiders. Yet, for many, just reading this section is likely causing 'crawly' sensations and some may be trying to brush away imaginary spider as they read.
A phobia is an intense fear of specific objects or situation. While many of us would feel a bit anxious standing on top of a tall building, it would not create an intense anxiety or fear. Phobias tend to produce an what would look like as an overreaction to a situation or object.
People who experience phobias:
May have an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
Take active steps to avoid the feared object or situation
Experience immediate intense anxiety or fear upon encountering the object or situation
Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety
There are many kinds of phobias that people experience. The one phobia that we will include here is the phobia we encounter most with our teens -- social phobia.
Symptoms of Social Phobia
Symptoms of social phobia include:
A general intense fear of or anxiety towards social or performance situations
Fear or worry that their actions will be negatively judged by others
Worrying for a number of days or weeks about an upcoming social situation
Avoiding social situations where they may experience the intense fear or worry
When at a social event, may try to blend in to avoid being noticed
Worried that other people will see them as anxious or nervous
Missing school due to anxiety or fear
Teen Anxiety, the Brain, and the Fear Network
Through fMRI studies, we have been able to identify the networks in the brain that influence anxiety. These networks have been found to over or under perform in relation with each other. The network that influences teen anxiety is referred to as the "fear circuit" or the "fear network". Though the teen is aware of how the fear network is impacting their mind and body, much of the process related to the fear network is unconscious.
Genetics, Anxiety, & Introduction to the Fear Network
Teen anxiety has its origin in the teen's neurobiology. Outside factors and events may trigger the anxiety yet, if the teen's brain had not first developed as an anxious brain, they would have been able to down-regulate the anxiety.
We are handed down many wonderful and amazing genetic traits from our parents and our parents/family before them. But, it can't all be wonderful and amazing and we are also handed other traits that can create some life challenges.
If you were handed down the genetic trait of anxiety, this tends to express itself by directing regions of the brain's development into a circuit of brain networks that elicit the physical response of anxiety.
Fear Network: Fight or Flight
The first variable that triggers the fear network is perceiving a real or imagined threat or stressor. Once the brain registers a real or perceived threat or stressor, the amygdala, a part of the limbic system, initiates a chain of actions that prepare the body to fight off the perceived threat or run from the perceived threat or stressor.
The amygdala alerts the sympathetic nervous system which is the 'activating' system in our body. The sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones of epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Epinephrine & Norepinephrine: A Jump Start to Action
Epinephrine and norepinephrine act as a jump start for your physiological stress response. This hormone provides a short term boost for increasing in your heart rate to pump blood and oxygen to your large muscle groups. A person is able to fight or run when their large muscle groups have the energy, or oxygen, to do so.
Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA): Sustaining the Jump Start to Action
Moments later, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) kicks in. The hypothalamus boosts the effects of the sympathetic nervous system. It helps to increase output for heart rate, respiratory rate, etc. The hypothalamus also signals the pituitary gland to release a stress hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol: Maintaining the Call to Action for the Duration
Cortisol helps your body maintain the stress response first initiated by the sympathetic nervous system. Cortisol is the stress hormone that helps the body manage the thereat or the stressor.
Cortisol triggers the body to continue to pump blood and oxygen to your large muscle groups to help prepare to fight off or run from the threat or stressor while the threat or stressor is present. Cortisol also places a hold on non-critical physiological and mental functions.
For example, what happens when someone jumps out and scares you when you weren't expecting it. What were you thinking about at that moment of fear? Were you thinking about work, school, friends, etc.? When we are in a fear state, our focus remains on the threat or stressor that produced the fear.
Parasympathetic Nervous System: The Calm After the Storm
Once the perceived threat or stressor is no longer present, our parasympathetic, or 'deactivating' system is triggered. The parasympathetic system helps down regulate the stress hormones and returns the body back to baseline and regular functioning.
Though there are other regions of the brain involved with creating the experience of anxiety, the above provides a succinct description of what is happening inside the body when a teen experiences anxiety. There are effective treatments out there for teen anxiety. Neurofeedback for teen anxiety is a powerful approach.
Fear Network, Anxiety, and Teen Strength
Teens who are struggling with anxiety show a high level of internal fortitude. Teens with teen anxiety undergo this physiological process to a greater or lesser degree on a daily basis. They attend school, earn good grades, take part in extracurricular activities, all while the fear network is active.
It may not feel like it, but you teens who struggle with anxiety, you are strong! Remember and remind yourself of this strength daily. To do the things you’re doing on a daily basis AND deal with a hyper-responsive amygdala and the associated fear response, is proof of that strength.
Neurofeedback & Treating Teen Anxiety at the Source
Anxiety can leave teens feeling demoralized, hopeless, and can drive self-esteem and self-worth to all-time lows. Those who experience anxiety know that their worry is irrational. They know that they are competent and capable. But no matter how they try, teen anxiety pops up to convince them otherwise -- and anxiety is a masterful convincer.
Sometimes, the simple fact of understanding where teen anxiety comes from can help. It can shift a teen's thinking of themselves from "I am weak" or "I am broken" to "it's not me, it's really my brain". This shift in awareness can help stave off some of the self-defeating thoughts teens with anxiety may experience.
First Neurofeedback Session
Neurofeedback for teen anxiety helps teens reframe anxiety from being a 'me' thing to a 'brain' thing. Neurofeedback for teen anxiety is a safe, relaxing, and fun therapeutic approach in treating teen anxiety.
The first session, your neurofeedback therapist will meet with you and your teen. Your neurofeedback therapists will help to deepen your understanding of what neurofeedback is. He will also help you to further your understanding of how it can help with teen anxiety.
Then, your neurofeedback therapists will place a cap on the teen's head. The cap looks like a swimmers cap but this cap has 19 sensors embedded in the cap. These sensors will record how the teen's brain performs.
In Between the First & Second Session
Once your neurotherapist records how the teen's brain is performing, he will review and edit the data. Then, he will create a 2-D and 3-D brain map of the teen's brain. This brain map is compared to a comprehensive data base of normal functioning brain performance of teens the same age and gender as your teen who do not have anxiety.
This comparison helps identify where the teen's brain may be over or under performing. We will pay special attention to the fear network and how those regions of the brain are performing.
Training in Neurofeedback: The Fine Tuning Process
Based on your teens results and the information collected, your neurofeedback therapist will start training with the teen. There are several approaches to training for teen anxiety. I will outline two that we use at Katy Teen & Family Counseling, PLLC:
Zukor Air is a video game. What is different about this video game is that you do not play it with a hand held controller. Your neurofeedback therapist will place the cap on the teens head. The sensors in the cap provide real time readings of the brain's performance which your neurofeedback therapist will monitor.
Using sophisticated software, Zukor Air will reward the teen by allowing them to control the video game when their brain is performing like a brain that does not have anxiety. When the teen's brain returns to performing with anxiety, the teen can no longer control the video game.
Applied Neuroscience (ANI) Streamer
The ANI Streamer functions much like the Zukor Air in that it rewards the teen when their brain is performing like that of a non-anxious teen. With the ANI streamer, the teen can choose a movie or TV series. When the teen's brain is performing as a teen brain without anxiety, the teen will be able to watch and hear the show. When the teen's brain is back to performing with anxiety, the picture and sound fade away.
Typical Course & Number of Sessions in Neurofeedback
Over these sessions, the brain is repeatedly rewarded when their brain is performing without anxiety. The teen's brain begins to correct the prior anxious performance to a non-anxious performance.
In a general sense, we are training the amygdala, which is hyper responsive creating anxiety, to calm and perform as a normal amygdala, limbic system, HPA axis, etc. should perform.
A typical course of neurofeedback requires the teen to have neurofeedback anywhere from as few as 2 times a week up to 4-6 times a week. At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, most teens, young adults, and adults participating in neurofeedback come 2 to 3 times a week.
Typically, the teen will receive approximately 40 neurofeedback training sessions. If the anxiety is sever, it may take additional neurofeedback training sessions beyond the 40.
Neurofeedback for Teen Anxiety at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Teen anxiety can be incredibly frustrating for a teen. Teen anxiety is largely a neurophysi0logical defense mechanism that puts into play systems in the teen's body that create the anxiety.
Teen anxiety places an artificial cap on the teen's ability to succeed and excel. It holds them back due to the worry, fear, or concern over situations and people.
At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we help teens who experience anxiety remove that artificial cap. Let us help your teen and family do the same. We want to help your teen utilize the gifts, talents, and strengths that are waiting to surface.
Our Board Certified Neurofeedback therapist has been trained through the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA). BCIA utilizes a rigorous training process to prepare their neurofeedback professionals to provide quality neurofeedback therapy.
(Why is it important that you choose a therapist who is BCIA Board Certified in Neurofeedback? Find out more here.)
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Meet with our compassionate neurofeedback professional
Let us walk with you as we work together in helping your teen achieve their full potential by removing the impacts of anxiety on their life!
Along with Providing Neurofeedback for Teen Anxiety, We Also Provide the Following Services
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR therapy) For:
Sports related performance blocks
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) For:
teen depression therapy
Anxiety in teens has a strong, neurophysiological basis, that can make it difficult for teens to overcome teen anxiety. Call us today to learn more about neurofeedback for teen anxiety or to schedule an appointment. Our neurofeedback therapist prides himself on returning messages, texts, or phone calls timely.
What Neurofeedback Researchers Have Discovered:
Neurofeedback for Anxiety
Anxiety can be a debilitating struggle. Teens highly capable and talented are blocked from realizing their full potential. Neurofeedback has been found to help teens who struggle with teen anxiety. As anxiety originates in the brain, it would make sense then to treat the anxiety at the source. Neurofeedback helps the brain learn to perform without anxiety.
Take a look at what the researchers have found regarding teen anxiety and neurofeedback:
Training the Anxious Brain: Using fMRI-Based Neurofeedback to Change Brain Activity in Adolescence
In this review, we provide an overview of the developmental changes in the brain and the corresponding behavioral changes, and explore how these can be influenced during adolescence using neurofeedback. We conclude that recent studies show promising results that children and adolescents can self‐regulate emotion regulation brain networks thereby supporting the development of effective emotion regulation abilities.
Annalisa Lipp, Kathrin Cohen Kadosh. Training the anxious brain: using fMRI‐based neurofeedback to change brain activity in adolescence. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology. Volume 62, Issue 11, November, 2020.
Real-Time Functional Connectivity-Informed Neurofeedback of Amygdala-Frontal Pathways Reduces Anxiety
Deficient emotion regulation and exaggerated anxiety represent a major transdiagnostic psychopathological marker. On the neural level these deficits have been closely linked to impaired, yet treatment-sensitive, prefrontal regulatory control over the amygdala. Gaining direct control over these pathways could therefore provide an innovative and promising intervention to regulate exaggerated anxiety. To this end the current proof-of-concept study evaluated the feasibility, functional relevance and maintenance of a novel connectivity-informed real-time fMRI neurofeedback training.
Training of the target, yet not the sham control, pathway significantly increased amygdala-vlPFC connectivity and decreased levels of anxiety. Stronger connectivity increases were significantly associated with higher anxiety reduction on the group level. At the follow-up, volitional control over the target pathway was maintained in the absence of feedback
Zhao Z, Yao S, Li K, Sindermann C, Zhou F, Zhao W, Li J, Lührs M, Goebel R, Kendrick K, M, Becker B. Real-Time Functional Connectivity-Informed Neurofeedback of Amygdala-Frontal Pathways Reduces Anxiety. Psychother- Psychosom. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Vol. 88, No. 1, 2019, March 2019.
Treatment of Anxiety Disorder With Neurofeedback: Case Study
The objective of the present study is to report the effects of neurofeedback training along in two patients diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Following 30 sessions of EEG biofeedback within a three-month period, patients reported a significant reduction in anxiety-related symptoms.
At one-year follow-up, results of SCL-90-R showed all clinical scales within normal range. In addition, self-reports confirmed that the patients were symptom free. In general, the current study findings demonstrated that neurofeedback was an effective treatment for anxiety disorder.
Afsaneh Moradi, Farzaneh Pouladi, Nooshin Pishva, Bagher Rezaei, Maliheh Torshabi, Zahra Alam Mehrjerdi,
Treatment of Anxiety Disorder with Neurofeedback: Case Study. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences,
Volume 30, 2011, Pages 103-107.