As the coronavirus pandemic moves past the first year mark it is more important than ever for people to be aware of their mental well-being. We are all a little on edge because our daily lives have been disrupted, and there are uncertainties about the future. More than ever, people need to recognize how they are feeling by routinely “checking-in” with themselves for signs of anxiety, stress, sadness and depression.
If there are children in the picture, there is added stress because their lives have also been disrupted, and most of them are having to do school on-line. This creates a sense of isolation for many children and adolescents because their social outlets have collapsed around them.
The experts agree that dealing with one’s own anxiety, as a parent, can be the most powerful way to make kids feel secure.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at one time or another, usually as a response to stress. It occurs when you worry, get nervous, or feel lack of emotional control when faced with a challenging situation. It may occur in a variety of situations, for instance when speaking in public, when taking a test, interviewing for a job, or when going through everyday stressors related to life events.
The symptoms you experience during moments of anxiety may be mild, or they may be severe enough that they are debilitating and may negatively impact your day-to-day life. The question is, how do we know when we are experiencing a normal response to anxiety as opposed to an abnormal or uncontrollable response to anxiety which requires treatment?
Anxiety and The Brain
The emotional processing centers reside deep in the brain in the limbic system. This system of structures, found deep inside the cortex, is considered to be the most primitive system in the brain. It’s structures are responsible for emotional responses, memories about past experiences, motivations for actions, and processing of all the sensory information we receive from our environment. The limbic system influences our endocrine system, which is involved in such functions as hormone secretions, and the autonomic nervous system. This is why we may experience physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, and/or sweating palms, when we experience anxiety and stress.
The limbic system also connects to the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is the thinking part of the brain responsible for executive functions such as goal-directed behavior and decision-making processes.
The prefrontal cortex is the rational part of the brain, and through its connections with the limbic system, the emotional brain, it has the power to control and manage the signals coming from it. For example, when the limbic system provides a signal to produce fear-like symptoms, but there is nothing fearful present, the prefrontal cortex can control this response to decrease or eliminate these symptoms and control the anxiety.
If this control does not occur, the resulting behavior manifests as anxiety. The neurobiology of anxiety disorders includes functional hyperactivity in the limbic system, particularly the amygdala, and the inability of higher cortical executive areas, in the prefrontal cortex, to normalize the limbic response to stimuli.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) recognizes eleven different types of anxiety disorders. Some of the anxiety disorders are considered short-term and resolve with the removal of an identified stressor and others are considered long-term, many of which start in childhood and last into adulthood.
The short-term anxiety disorders are as follows:
- Acute Stress Disorder
- Adjustment Disorder with Anxious Features
- Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder
The long-term anxiety disorders are as follows:
- Anxiety secondary to medical condition
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Social Phobia, Social Anxiety Disorder
- Specific Phobia, Simple Phobia
Anxiety in Children/Adolescents
When children feel anxious it may not be clear to parents and they may not know what to look for. Children and adolescents express their anxiety in a variety of ways. Anxiety could look like:
- Poor academic performance
- Poor sleep habits
- Reassurance seeking behavior
- Reluctance to separate from parents
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches
- Lack of interest or motivation in normal activities
- Tantrums or meltdowns
- Poor eating habits
- Mood swings and irritability
- Poor self-esteem and self-concept
Your child/adolescent may not know how to express their feelings. As a parent, you may need to check-in with them regularly to show them that there is a supportive environment for them to share what they are going through.
There is a shift happening in the mental health community and now more than ever, people are searching for non-pharmacological healthy treatments to promote wellness. This has also resulted in many new treatment options which can have scientific support in the treatment of these conditions.
One of these options, that has been well-researched and proven to be successful, in the treatment of anxiety, is neurofeedback.
Common Signs and Symptoms of an Anxiety
Anxiety is considered to be a normal response to a variety of stressors in life, for instance, before an exam, an interview for a new job, or a performance. There are several distinctions, however, between what is considered a normal response to these stressors and what is considered dysfunctional. Some key differences between normal anxiety and anxiety that may be diagnosed as a disorder, which requires intervention, are as follows:
- Constant feelings of stress and anxiety even when a stressor is not present, feelings are chronic and persistent in nature
- Intensity of the emotional and physical response is high
- Length of time the individual experiences the intense feelings of stress, i.e. many weeks before the exam as opposed to the night before an exam
- Presence of other symptoms such as physical symptoms and cognitive symptoms
- Impaired daily functioning
- Obsessive thoughts that create fear
Anxiety is an umbrella term often used to label all varieties of anxiety disorders. The reality is that there are many different types of anxiety-based disorders. Often people have more than one type of anxiety disorder but are not always diagnosed with more than one type. For instance, many individuals with generalized anxiety disorder will develop social anxiety and/or panic disorders which become secondary diagnoses. When anxiety co-exists with other diagnoses, the clinical picture becomes much more complex, and the manifestations of anxiety will vary tremendously. The clinical picture will also change depending on the individual’s age and stage of development. Some other disorders that are comorbid with anxiety include:
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Developmental Disorders
- Cognitive Impairments
- Mental Retardations
- Organic Brain Disease
- Endocrine Disorders-Thyroid disorders
- Central Nervous System Injuries involving the prefrontal cortex
- Cardiovascular Disorders-Mitral Valve Prolapse
- Insomnia and other sleep disorders
- Learning Disabilities
Testing for Anxiety
Whether you have already been diagnosed with anxiety or you are seeking a professional opinion about your perceived anxiety, our professionals will start the diagnostic process with a variety of tests and measures to determine the most suitable treatment program for you.
We test and treat both children and adults for anxiety and its related symptoms.
How Do We Test for Anxiety?
Our most effective tool to analyze anxiety and find the root causes for the symptoms of anxiety is the QEEG/Brain Map.
In addition to the QEEG analysis, patients will complete a battery of tests and “self-report” questionnaires, which are also crucial to the diagnostic process.
Treatment Options for Anxiety
Now more than ever people with anxiety are seeking out treatments that are either completely drug-free or that combine pharmateuticals (ie. prescription drugs) with more organic wellness-based treatments.
These treatments offer many new approaches to treating anxiety with the goal of promoting, in patients, a sense of control over their healing and recovery processes.
Our anxiety treatments for children and adults include:
- Qeeg guided neurofeedback
- Alpha-Theta Training
- Virtual Reality based neuro-regulation and meditation
- Sound-based listening programs that enable better nervous system regulation
- Interactive meditation
- Audio-Visual Entrainment