Fear and anxiety are part of life. You may feel anxious before you take a test or walk down a dark street. This kind of anxiety is useful - it can make you more alert or careful. It usually ends soon after you are out of the situation that caused it. But for millions of people in the United States, the anxiety does not go away, and gets worse over time. They may have chest pains or nightmares. They may even be afraid to leave home. These people have anxiety disorders.
• Panic disorder
• Obsessive-compulsive disorder
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Generalized anxiety disorder
Source: NIH: National Institute of Mental Health
Why biofeedback treats these problems:
There can be several different underlying medical problems which cause abnormal levels of anxiety. Biofeedback helps each for different reasons.
1.) Breathing problems which cause anxiety:
Half or more of people who habitually breathe too rapidly with shallow breaths are anxious because of the effects of their breathing on their brains' chemistry. Most of these people are not aware they have incorrect breathing patterns. These incorrect patterns are easily detected using psychophysiological assessments and are corrected using several types of biofeedback related to helping people normalize their breathing patterns. When the breathing is normalized, the "nervous" feelings go away.
2.) Chronic stress that causes anxiety:
When a person experiences greater levels of stress or the stress lingers far longer than it should, the body's normal responses don't easily shut down. This chronic stress can lead to exhaustion while thinking and memory patterns also change. This results in a permanent state of "fight or flight" which underlies many anxiety disorders. Biofeedback treatments show the patient the abnormal physiological responses. Patients use this knowledge to learn to self-regulate their nervous systems and to control their anxiety.
Source: Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB)