Brain-based Intervention for Anxiety Disorders
Why a Neuroplasticity Approach is Best for Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 18.1% of the population every year. In fact, 40 million adults from the ages of 18 to 54 suffer with an anxiety disorder that will last at least 6 months and worsen without treatment—yet according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), only 36.9% will receive treatment. Anxiety can wreak havoc on mind, body and spirit; further limiting our life potential—but the good news is brain-based intervention can stop anxiety in its tracks.
Anxiety alters the brain. Fear draws in more fear and promotes avoidant responses. Because fear alters the brain, it is essential to reach the whole brain and recondition the anxiety neural pattern to rewire the brain and stop emotional pain so that those who suffer from anxiety can live healthy lives. The mind that works skillfully and intentionally can change the brain and body and even stress proof it for years to come.
Have you ever wondered if medication is better than psychotherapy?
Many clinicians feel that medications should not be used as a first-line treatment, because pills come with many problems, such as side effects, which can include sedation, memory impairment and dizziness as well as an increased potential for physical dependence, withdrawal issues and long-term addiction. Further, anti-anxiety medications can interfere with rewiring the fear circuitry and the reprocessing of traumatic memories. Additionally, anxiety that is due to separation or abandonment concerns may not even respond to these medications. Consequently, in order to get at what is at the root of the emotional pain, it’s important to consider the brain. For the brain, outside triggers, internal thoughts or sensations are capable of activating emotional pain and survival-response patterns. The human brain is hard-wired in such a way that the panic-grief circuitry differs from the fear circuitry. But medication doesn’t always distinguish between these circuitries.
If you or your client is already on medication, it’s not too late to get them free of it. The Emotional Pain Intervention (EPI®) approach that I use and teach emphasizes use of brain-based skills, not pills. Before training these new skills, EPI can teach you how to reframe experiences with emotional pain and empower you or your client to understand how emotions act as signals to the brain. To reframe emotional pain, you will need to draw on affective neuroscience research to describe the primary emotions at the root of anxiety which will illuminate new ways of dealing with anxiety symptoms.
The brain and body communication utilizes emotion to motivate action, survival and motor responses. When an emotion is triggered, the brain is causing ‘a motion’ and energy for action or inaction. FEAR, RAGE and PANIC-GRIEF are three key Emotion-Action Systems that are prewired into all mammalian brains. By understanding what the brain does and how it alters how we relate to emotional pain responses, you can gain better control of the emotional responses triggered by the signals the brain receives.
When an emotional response is triggered, the emotional region of the brain that runs the body’s nervous system is turned on. What that means is that in addition to experiencing emotions, physical sensations in the body become triggered. These responses include a racing heartbeat, changes in breathing, or sweating. By learning the simple science of emotions, anyone suffering from anxiety can become free of these neurological patterns which are at the root of emotional pain.
By gaining a neuropsychologically-informed view of emotions and solutions based on Affective Neuroscience, you will be better able to limit any emotional confusion and foster the effective resolution of anxiety disorders with brain-mind-body interventions. Once you learn how to explain the brain and emotional pain responses in simple ways—whether for yourself or for your clients—you are better able to identify the areas that you’ll be targeting and change the neurological responses through therapeutic interventions. By targeting what the whole brain has been doing to the body with emotional pain response, you influence the survival systems involved in fear, threat and danger detection.