How Does Neurofeedback Work For Anxiety?

Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, non-drug treatment protocol that monitors, records, and displays the brainwaves of a patient.

This treatment protocol provides patients with a real-time visualization of how their brain is working, which allows them to take direct control over their brain’s activity to purposefully shift the brain into a healthier pattern of functioning.

Neurofeedback can be a valuable treatment for several disorders, but it works exceptionally well for anxiety and stress-related disorders.

And unlike medication, which does not actually address the root cause of the problem (the patient’s dysregulated brain activity), neurofeedback focuses on the underlying cause of an individual’s anxiety by addressing these problematic patterns of neural activity. This is why neurofeedback is able to achieve not only short-term symptom reduction, but it increases long-term resilience to future stress as well.

For the last 40 years, the Drake Institute has served as a pioneer of neurofeedback treatment and achieved success in helping thousands of patients improve and overcome their anxiety-related symptoms.

If you or someone you know needs immediate assistance, fill out our contact form or call us at 800-700-4233 for a free consultation to learn how neurofeedback can help.  


What Is Neurofeedback?

Also known as EEG-Biofeedback therapy, neurofeedback therapy falls under the umbrella of biofeedback. While standard biofeedback measures bodily functions such as a patient’s heart rate, hand temperature, muscle tension, and galvanic skin response, neurofeedback focuses on measuring and retraining the electrical activity of the brain.

After neurofeedback training is completed, patients will have a better understanding of how their brain works and how they can shift their brain into a healthier functioning pattern to not only improve stress/anxiety but also concentration and focus.

And because neurofeedback’s results are self-generated and not the result of external influences such as medications, patients can experience long-term symptom relief well after treatment has concluded.

How Does Neurofeedback Work?

Because neurofeedback measures and trains specific brainwaves, one must first understand how the brain works before then are able to understand its effect on our behavior.

Below is a breakdown of the 4 primary types of brainwaves, each of which neurofeedback monitors and records:  

  • Beta Waves - These waves have the highest (i.e., fastest) frequency and occur in greater numbers when the brain is actively engaged in a difficult task, such as learning a new skill, giving a speech, taking a test, solving a problem, or having a deep conversation. However, it should be noted that excess beta waves can actually result in increased anxiety.
  • Alpha Waves - These waves occur at the next highest frequency. You’ll experience greater alpha waves when you are relaxed, but not tired. Meditation or relaxing with your eyes closed will produce more alpha waves in the posterior regions of the brain, which can result in reducing the stress response. The Drake Institute has used alpha neurofeedback to help stop panic attacks.
  • Theta Waves - Theta brainwaves are slower still in frequency and happen when we are sleepy or when we let our mind wander. Theta brainwaves are ideal for helping you wind down, and thus really useful around bedtime, but if your brain produces them too often throughout the day, then you may feel foggy and fatigued or have difficulties concentrating.
  • Delta Waves - Delta waves have the slowest frequency and usually only occur in large numbers when you are in a deep, dreamless sleep. You wouldn’t want them occurring during the day, or while trying to actively attend to something.

The takeaway here is to realize that if your brain is producing the wrong types of brainwaves at the wrong time, then you won’t be able to function optimally, and that anxiety and stress disorders are often caused by this exact problem.

So how does neurofeedback work for anxiety? With neurofeedback training, you can learn to improve and strengthen your brainwave patterns so that your brain functions in the proper balance. This requires sufficient beta waves to focus and solve problems during the day, but not excessive beta waves which can cause the brain to become over-active and trigger the brain’s “limbic” (i.e., fight or flight) response.  

This is what makes neurofeedback therapy ideal for treating anxiety; it literally trains your brain to do the right thing at the right time.

Benefits Of Neurofeedback Therapy For Anxiety

There are several reasons why a patient may choose neurofeedback therapy to help with their anxiety.

One of the most significant benefits is that it is a non-drug treatment. Medications can be tricky to get right, and you may have to try several medications at different doses to find one that works for your unique circumstances.

You may also experience significant side effects from medications, even when they’re working at helping reduce your anxiety symptoms. Neurofeedback doesn’t require the use of drugs and as a result, carries a far smaller risk of unwanted side effects.

Neurofeedback therapy for anxiety is also non-invasive. All that’s required is to have a few sensors placed strategically on the patient’s head. These sensors record the patient’s brainwave activity and display it in a format that patients can interpret and understand.

As an example, one treatment protocol used at the Drake Institute transforms the patient’s brainwaves into a game in which a car is driving down a highway. When the patient is in a focused state, the car stays in its lane and an auditory tone is triggered. This process teaches patients how to concentrate and “push” their brains into a more focused state.

Is Neurofeedback Therapy Safe For Anxiety?

Neurofeedback therapy for anxiety is a safe treatment option and an especially good option for patients looking to achieve long-term symptom relief.

As long as the procedures are performed by an experienced clinician, neurofeedback is an extremely safe intervention that carries minimal risk of side effects. The Drake Institute has the additional advantage of being overseen by a physician with over 40 years of clinical experience in this area.

What Is Anxiety?

One simple way to understand anxiety is to consider it to be akin to the “fight or flight” response we feel when we sense danger, which is the body’s way of reacting to dangerous circumstances and environmental hazards.  

When feeling threatened, the body releases adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that cause us to feel stress and agitation. This was useful when hunter-gatherers needed to be aware of potential enemies and predators, but when your body interprets a public speech or a job interview as a threat and the fight or flight response kicks in to generate anxiety, this is obviously not the most useful response to the situation at hand.

In the most severe cases, anxiety may even cause panic attacks. Panic attacks are often reported to be one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through, and the threat of subsequent attacks alone can prevent an individual from being able to lead a normal life.

The goal of neurofeedback is not to eliminate anxiety completely, as some amount of anxiety can be good for us by keeping us aware and alert so that we perform at our best. However, neurofeedback teaches us how to minimize and manage anxiety in order to prevent it from getting out of control.

Neurofeedback trains patients to reduce or eliminate their anxiety so they are no longer being held hostage by their own anxiety. It also teaches patients how to return to their emotional baseline more quickly once the anxiety-producing experience is over.

What Causes Anxiety?

The way we perceive situations (even subconsciously) is what determines our anxiety levels.

For example, let’s say you just watched a scary movie about spiders. Even after the movie is over, you still have spiders on the brain, so to speak. You may feel on edge and become convinced that there is a spider somewhere nearby.

When you pull back your covers to get into bed, your brain interprets a loose hair clip as a giant spider and sends a rush of adrenaline through your body to urge you to fight or flee.

While a spider may, in some cases, present as a genuine threat, the same cannot be said about other circumstances such as a job interview or presentation at work. However, if our brain “interprets” these situations to be threatening, our neurological response to them is virtually identical to when we are presented with a legitimate threat. This is why severe anxiety makes people feel like their life is in danger, even when they are in situations with virtually no risk of being harmed.

In other cases, an individual’s brain can function in such a way that the limbic “fight or flight” response is always being activated, regardless of the circumstances. This results in more generalized anxiety in which the person is in a constant state of hypervigilance or fear, and actually looks to the world around them to try to “justify” their fear. This results in an overall feeling that we are surrounded by threats that have a particularly devastating impact on daily functioning.

Anxiety & The Limbic System

Our brain’s limbic system controls the fight or flight response, and when this system is active, your mind and body will be put on high alert.

This limbic state is helpful during a real-life emergency that demands a survival response, but in the modern age where we don’t have to fight for our survival on a daily basis, it can lead to excess stress and anxiety and even have a negative impact on your physical health.

When the limbic state activates and releases anxiety-producing hormones, this process can also disrupt quite a few of the body’s normal functions. Blood pressure and heart rate will increase, as will blood sugar. The immune and digestive systems become slower to respond. Hand temperature drops, and tension occurs in the face, neck, or shoulders. It also has a negative impact on cognition, particularly frontal lobe function, resulting in difficulties with focus, judgment, and problem-solving.

Symptoms Of Anxiety

Not all patients with anxiety will have all possible symptoms, and no two people experience anxiety in the exact same way, but there are a few common symptoms that many anxious patients will experience, including both physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical Effects of Anxiety

  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tension
  • Digestive dysfunction including irritable bowel syndrome
  • Cold or clammy hands
  • Teeth grinding/jaw clenching
  • Frequent urination
  • Trembling
  • Palpitations (heart pounding)
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches

Psychological Effects of Anxiety

  • Fear of separation
  • Temper tantrums
  • Nightmares
  • Feeling on edge
  • Racing thoughts or difficulties falling asleep
  • Feeling hypervigilant, such as feeling like you are on “thin ice”
  • Irritability
  • Not wanting to go to school/work
  • Difficulty concentrating

How The Drake Institute Treats Anxiety

For the last 40 years, the Drake Institute has pioneered cutting-edge treatments for anxiety and stress disorders.

State-of-the-art technology and methods guide our treatments as we monitor physical and neurophysical functions for abnormalities or dysfunction. The therapy we offer is non-invasive and drug-free.


One way we monitor and treat anxiety in patients is through biofeedback treatment.

Like with neurofeedback, sensors are placed on the body to monitor specific metrics, like hand temperature, muscle tension, and heart rate variability.

Abnormalities indicate how the anxiety disorder affects the patient. Then, the patient learns self-regulation techniques to normalize the neurophysical functioning linked to symptoms.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

Anxiety can be overwhelming, and it can be challenging to know how to reduce these debilitating symptoms.

If you are in need for neurofeedback training for anxiety, contact the Drake Institute today by filling out the contact form or calling us at 800-700-4233.

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To get the help you or a loved one needs, call now to schedule your no-cost screening consultation.

dr david velkoff headshot

“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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