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The Transformative Impact of Neurofeedback on Mental Health 🧠
The Future of Mental Health: The Transformative Potential of Neurofeedback (10min read)
The blog demystifies neurofeedback, a therapy aiding mental health disorders like PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
It differentiates between neurofeedback and biofeedback, and introduces at-home neurofeedback sessions.
It explains fNIRS, a technology used in devices like Mendi for neurofeedback, mapping active brain areas.
The blog highlights the role of neurofeedback in managing PTSD and other conditions, advocating for devices like Mendi.
It concludes by underscoring neurofeedback's potential as a tool for enhancing mental health, not as a quick fix.
Today, we will dive into the world of neurofeedback, a non-invasive therapeutic intervention that's reshaping how we heal mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD/CPTSD.
As we pull back the curtain on this innovative approach, I think you'll be amazed by the scientific research underscoring its profound impact on mental & emotional health.
If you’re curious what neurofeedback device (Mendi) I use with my clients and why, I will also cover that today as well!
Let’s dive in!
Debunking Myths: Clearing Up Common Misconceptions about Neurofeedback
First of all, let’s debunk some misconceptions you might have about neurofeedback overall.
These can range from overblown expectations to misguided apprehensions.
Myth 1: Neurofeedback is a Quick Fix
While neurofeedback can indeed bring about significant changes, it is not a silver bullet for mental health issues.
It's a process that requires time, and commitment, and often complements other treatment modalities, like psychotherapy or medication.
Everyone’s response to neurofeedback is unique, and the time it takes to observe changes varies.
Myth 2: Neurofeedback is Dangerous
As a non-invasive procedure, neurofeedback is generally considered safe.
The process simply involves monitoring brainwave or blood flow activity and providing real-time feedback.
It does not involve any form of electrical stimulation or medication.
In fact, it can even be done at home, by yourself, as we’ll discuss today!
Myth 3: Neurofeedback is Only for People with Mental Health Issues
While it's true that neurofeedback can be beneficial for managing conditions like ADHD, PTSD, and anxiety, its use is not confined to these areas.
Anyone looking to enhance cognitive performance, improve sleep, or simply learn more about their brain can benefit from neurofeedback.
Myth 4: The Effects of Neurofeedback are Temporary
Some believe that once you stop neurofeedback training, the improvements will fade away.
However, research suggests that the effects of neurofeedback can be long-lasting.
Neurofeedback aims to train your brain to maintain healthier patterns independently, and many people report that the benefits persist long after their sessions have ended.
I hope that understanding these misconceptions helps you approach neurofeedback with realistic expectations and an appreciation for its genuine potential!
The Science Behind Neurofeedback
This technique is based on the principle of biofeedback, where individuals are guided to gain control over their physiological processes with real-time data.
Let’s talk about the differences between the two quick.
Biofeedback vs. Neurofeedback
Biofeedback and neurofeedback are techniques used in the field of mental health to help individuals gain control over their physiological processes.
Both use real-time displays of bodily functions to teach the individual how to manage these functions consciously.
However, they differ in what kind of bodily functions they monitor and train.
Biofeedback: Body-Wide Awareness
Biofeedback is a broader technique that encompasses a range of physiological functions, including heart rate, skin conductance, muscle tension, and temperature, among others.
For example, heart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback is one common form.
HRV refers to the variation in time between each heartbeat, which is directly linked to our body's stress response.
By using HRV biofeedback, a person can learn to control their heart rate, increasing their ability to handle stress and fostering a sense of calm.
Neurofeedback: Brain-Centric Training
Neurofeedback, a subset of biofeedback, specifically targets the brain and its electrical activity, often measured using EEG.
This technique trains individuals to control their brainwaves, which can be linked to various mental states and cognitive functions.
For instance, neurofeedback can train an individual to promote alpha waves, associated with relaxed wakefulness, to combat stress and anxiety.
Conversely, it can also encourage beta waves, related to alert and focused cognitive activity, to improve attention and concentration.
Hopefully, now you can see the difference between these two techniques!
In a typical neurofeedback session, sensors are attached to your scalp to record your brainwaves via an EEG (electroencephalogram).
This data is instantaneously fed back to you, usually through a computer interface, allowing you to observe and gradually learn to modify your brain's electrical activity.
Until recently, you had to go into a clinic to get this kind of thing done, but with advancements in neurotechnology, you can do these kinds of things at home now!
Speaking of advancements in neurotech, EEG isn’t the only way to measure brain activity anymore!
Let’s talk about fNIRS, or “Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy.”
Taking a Deeper Look at fNIRS
First off, you need to know about near-infrared (NIR) light.
It's a kind of light that our brains are pretty much see-through to.
This light falls within a specific range, 650–1,000 nm, which is just a way of saying its wavelength.
Many night vision devices use NIR light. These devices work by illuminating the scene with NIR and then capturing the reflected light.
When we shine this NIR light on the head, most of it scatters or spreads around within the tissue beneath the surface.
But some of it is soaked up by certain compounds, the most important of which is hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is found in our red blood cells, and it has a massively important job - it carries oxygen around our bodies.
Here's where it gets interesting. Hemoglobin changes the way it affects the NIR light depending on how much oxygen it's carrying.
If it's carrying a lot of oxygen (oxy-hemoglobin or HbO), it affects the light differently than when it's carrying less oxygen (deoxyhemoglobin or HbR).
fNIRS keeps an eye on these changes in HbO and HbR levels.
This allows it to make a pretty good guess about what's going on in the brain tissue below where the light was shone.
By doing this, we can get an idea of which parts of the brain are active at any given moment.
Devices like Mendi are leading the charge when it comes to this kind of technology.
Understanding the Tools: fNIRS vs. EEG
As we journey further into the terrain of neurofeedback, it's essential to understand the tools that make this journey possible.
Two of the primary technologies used in neurofeedback are EEG (electroencephalography) and fNIRS (functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy).
While both are non-invasive and safe, they provide different types of data about our brain activity, each with its unique advantages and considerations.
fMRI & MEG are both types of brain scans that can be used for neurofeedback as well, but for today’s purposes, we’re going to cover ones you can access at home easily!
EEG or Electroencephalogram
EEG, a time-tested method, measures brainwaves to track brain activity with high precision and is relatively affordable and accessible.
However, it's less precise at pinpointing the location of this activity.
fNIRS or Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy
On the other hand, the newer fNIRS technique uses near-infrared light to detect blood flow changes in the brain, providing insights into which brain areas are more active.
It's great at determining where brain activity occurs and is more tolerant to movements of your head.
It falls short in measuring deep brain structures, but for an at-home device, you don’t really need to measure deep brain regions.
Also, until recently, fNIRS tech has been pricer & less accessible than EEG tech!
Which is another reason I love Mendi, more on that in a moment.
Mapping the Mind: Blood Flow Changes in the Brain
By now, you’re probably curious why on earth measuring blood flow in the brain matters, and why fNIRS allowing us to do it is so groundbreaking.
So, let’s talk about how brain blood flow changes in individuals diagnosed with different mental health/illness conditions!
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is often associated with exposure to a traumatic event.
Research reveals that people with PTSD show heightened activity in the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in processing emotions and fear.
Additionally, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for regulating emotional responses, shows reduced activity.
This imbalance may contribute to the symptoms of PTSD, such as intense fear responses to triggers related to the traumatic event.
Anxiety disorders are characterized by constant and overwhelming worry and fear.
Studies have shown increased blood flow to the amygdala and the insular cortex, two regions involved in processing fear and emotion, in individuals with generalized anxiety disorder.
This increased activity might relate to the excessive worry and fear seen in these individuals.
Major depressive disorder, often just called depression, is associated with persistent feelings of sadness and a lack of interest in activities once enjoyed.
Research suggests that there is often decreased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex, both involved in mood regulation and cognitive functions.
This could contribute to the emotional and cognitive symptoms of depression, such as feelings of sadness and difficulty concentrating.
Understanding these blood flow patterns gives us essential insight into the underlying mechanisms of these conditions and provides valuable information for developing more targeted treatments.
Harnessing Neurofeedback for Mental Health
Now that we’ve talked about these 4 mental illnesses, did you notice any patterns?
If you noticed that deactivation in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is the common thread, great work!
I’ve seen this pattern in hundreds of research papers, and in the behavior/symptoms that my clients present with, especially after trauma.
Increasing blood flow to the PFC can help alleviate these kinds of symptoms.
Research suggests that neurofeedback can be incredibly beneficial in managing and potentially healing these conditions.
A 2016 study published in the journal 'Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback' indicated that neurofeedback significantly reduced symptoms of PTSD in veterans, with effects maintained at a 6-month follow-up.
Successful neurofeedback training typically necessitates several neurofeedback sessions—anywhere from one to five sessions for fMRI-neurofeedback and up to 30 sessions for EEG-neurofeedback.
This can be costly and difficult to carry out with fMRI, which further emphasizes the practical advantages of fNIRS in neurofeedback training, it’s a great middle ground between these two methods.
This leads us to Mendi, after trying multiple types of at-home neurofeedback devices for myself, and my clients, this is the best one I’ve found!
What Makes Mendi Special?
First of all, it’s the first device like this that has actually worked for me and my clients.
I’ve tried other devices like Muse, but it just didn’t work in the way I needed it to, and it was using EEG, not fNIRS.
By using Mendi, I get to take into the power of fNIRS tech, and can see & track the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of my clients over time.
As we just talked about, in every one of the top mental health issues I work on with people, decreased blood flow to this area is present.
By using Mendi, I can show my clients the effects of the healing they’re doing, and allow them to train their brain even when we aren’t together.
Mendi is the only affordable fNIRS device I’ve found so far, and it’s actually a fun game to play!
I’ve done a couple of videos on it already, here’s one you can check out if you’d like: Mendi Explainer Video
How Does It Work?
As you place the headband across your forehead and start the game, Mendi begins to measure oxygenated blood flow in response to neural activity in your prefrontal cortex.
Checkout my video on it to see the game in action: Cody Unboxing & Trying Mendi
Mendi also gives you a “Mendi Score” which is a representation of how well you activate your prefrontal cortex when training, a comparison of your historical data, how diligently you stick to the habit of training, and how long your Mendi sessions are on average.
If you wanna see what it’s doing to your brain, I suggest you check out this video:
Mendi want’s to help as many people as they can, so they give me some discount codes for ya’ll too.
If you’d like to try Mendi, you can use the code “Cody20” for 20% off the device during May for Mental Health Awareness Month!
If you see this after May, you can use “Cody15” for 15% off at any time.
It’s Not Magic, It’s Science
Neurofeedback isn't a magical cure-all, but it offers a powerful, non-invasive tool for anyone seeking to optimize their mental health and reclaim control over their well-being.
Remember, this journey, like any other, begins with a single step.
Until next time… Live Heroically 🧠
The content of this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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