Neurofeedback: Training The Brain to Achieve Homeostasis

Published on December 11, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

As technology progresses, so too does our ability to help others in need. As a first responder, you may have had first-hand experience utilizing a new piece of technology or equipment that has helped you help others. Neurofeedback aims to do just that: help others heal. With advances in brainwave monitoring equipment and computer software, access to treatment has become more widespread. Unlike other forms of therapy that focus on changing skills and behavior, neurofeedback focuses on training brain activity to reach healthier homeostasis. This process can help treat those with mental health disorders such as trauma, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse disorders, which often disrupt the brain’s natural balance.

In conjunction with other therapy, neurofeedback can be a viable option for those seeking help within the first responder community, as this is a profession that requires resilient mental agility. Putting themselves on the frontline, experiencing crises, and having constant exposure to highly stressful and traumatic situations can significantly impact one’s mental health and well-being. Such exposure to these stressors can make it challenging for a first responder to reach a healthy homeostasis. However, much like the way training with physical exercise develops specific muscles, the more you train brain activity, the better your brain figures out how to balance its activity through neuroplasticity. This is where neurofeedback can help.  

Understanding Brain Activity

To better understand how neurofeedback works to train brain activity, it may be helpful to understand the role brain waves play in mental health and functioning. Brain waves are the electrical impulses our brains produce as a form of communication with brain cells. Studying these waves can inform us about how an individual feels and functions. When these waves and patterns are abnormal, it can influence the development of certain conditions.

According to an article on “changes of the brain’s bioelectrical activity in cognition, consciousness, and some mental disorders,” the frequency of brain waves indicate various mental states such as sleep, consciousness, cognition, and some mental disorders. For example, slower brain waves are seen in some conditions such as sleep, a coma, depression, brain tumors, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In contrast, rapid waves are generally reported in conditions such as epilepsy, anxiety, post-traumatic stress (PTS), and drug abuse.  

Frequencies –  Brain waves are categorized based on their frequency, which relates to different brain activity states:

  • Beta rhythm (13-35 Hz): This wave is related to consciousness, brain activities, and motor behaviors. Beta activity is ‘fast’ activity and is the dominant rhythm in alert or anxious individuals, or who have their eyes open. 
  • Alpha rhythm (7-13 Hz): This brain activity typically occurs during wakeful relaxation. When Alpha predominates, most people feel calm and at ease. 
  • Theta rhythm (4-7 Hz): This rhythm is recorded during low brain activities, sleep, or drowsiness. 
  • Delta rhythm (0-4 Hz): This wave is recorded during very low activities of the brain and deep sleep. 

How It Works

Neurofeedback treatment focuses greatly on the individual as each person is unique with many varying factors depending on conditions and circumstances. It uses sensors on the scalp, measuring and monitoring the brain’s activity to map out your brain. It can detect specific activity that may be giving rise to your symptoms. Then, once the areas of concern are identified, a training plan is created to help reach that efficient homeostasis state again. 

Medical professionals compare what your brain activity currently looks like with what you’d like it to look like during a neurofeedback session. When your brain begins moving more toward this desired state, you are rewarded with a positive response, which can be in the form of music, a movie, or other visual stimuli that work to create a more relaxed state. When the brain begins moving away from the desired state, the positive stimuli are taken away. Just like any other form of training and learning something new, this process takes time and repetition. Over time, this process trains your brain to change its regulation into more healthy and stable homeostasis. 

Its Application

According to the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research, one of the main findings of neurofeedback studies is that those who are dependent on drugs may be predispositioned to dysregulation of certain brain waves, and abusing a substance is temporarily helpful in mitigating the effects of this. However, with neurofeedback, those who suffer from co-occurring disorders and dual diagnosis can retrain the brain and allow it to learn natural, healthier techniques to address dysregulations, and reach a more balanced state. 

Many people who experience depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, insomnia, and other mental health issues find it challenging to allow their brains to reach a relaxed state on their own. Within the first responder community, facing daily stressors from the job can add to this difficulty. Over time, the brain can become overloaded and stay fixed in a hyper-alert, anxious state, causing an imbalance in the brain’s natural homeostasis. Neurofeedback is a process that can help train the brain into a more natural, healthier, and stable state. At First Responders Wellness, we provide confidential and trusted treatment for those who are on the front lines; our medical professionals have extensive experience working with first responders. If you or a loved one is considering neurofeedback treatment, reach out to us today. To learn how our comprehensive mental health and well-being services, including neurofeedback, can help you achieve a happy, healthy life, call us at (888) 743-0490.