Beta Wave Basics, Part 2

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Welcome back! Last weeks blog entry, Beta Wave Basics, Part 1 focused on the basics of beta waves, including what they are, how they are reflected in an EEG, and how knowing about them may be relevant to your life. This week, the conversation will continue as we discuss the different types of beta wave frequencies, potential symptoms associated with these frequencies, and how neurofeedback may be a great option to relieve symptoms and achieve optimal brain health.

Because beta waves have a wide range in frequency (from approximately 14 hertz to 30 hertz), individuals may experience different states of mind during different frequencies. For example, an individual who has a lower beta wave frequency may experience alertness, clear thinking, and/or creative thinking. The lower frequencies within beta waves are close to alpha waves (approximately 8 hertz to 13.9 hertz). Remember, individuals whose brain activity reflects alpha waves are in states of deep relaxation. Therefore, the closer an individual’s brain activity is at a frequency around 13.9 hertz, the more alert and clear his or her thinking will be.

On the other end of the spectrum, an individual who has a higher beta wave frequency may experience restlessness, anxiety, stress, and/or panic. The higher the frequency, the more your brain is working to rapidly send signals to other parts of the body. It takes a lot of energy from the brain to maintain these higher brain wave frequencies because the brain is doing more than it would in a relaxed state. As a result, it can negatively affect an individual’s health, as seen in the potential symptoms previously listed. Furthermore, a brain that is consistently in a high frequency state creates an imbalance in the system as the brain may be overexerting itself. This, too, can create issues in an individual’s physical and/or emotional health. The more stress the brain is under, or the longer it maintains a high frequency, the more it releases a stress hormone called cortisol. Recent studies on cortisol have revealed that chronic stress and high cortisol levels can have multiple negative effects on the brain.

As previously mentioned, an individual’s type of activity level or emotional state may affect an individual’s brain frequency, which can then lead to multiple symptoms. An individual whose brain activity is in a state of low frequency within beta waves may experience deficiencies in attention, issues with sleep (including difficulty falling or maintaining sleep), chronic pain, or may experience various types of depression. An individual whose brain activity is in a state of high frequency within beta waves may experience issues in sleep (including nightmares), aggression or anger, anxiety, or impulsivity. An individual who experiences a combination of both low and high frequencies throughout the day may have symptoms associated with depression, ADHD, and anxiety.

It may help to think about beta waves and its effects on the system in terms of drinking coffee. Think about what happens when you first wake up in the morning. You may be unable to focus, you may be feeling down, or you may be experiencing pain, just like it you were in a lower beta state. You decide that in order to become more alert you will have your morning coffee. You begin to have more energy and are now able to concentrate on tasks, such as if you were in an average beta state. However, if you have too much coffee, or your beta frequency is too high, your thoughts may become disorganized and you may have difficulty staying alert; in fact, you may experience symptoms associated with panic, such as a rapid heartbeat. Beta waves act like coffee -- it’s important to be at an optimal level in order to function, but too much or too little can result in negative effects on the body and mind.

Neurofeedback helps relieve individuals of their symptoms via training the brain to self-regulate. When an individual is engaged in neurofeedback, whether watching a movie or playing a game, the electrodes on the individual’s scalp are monitoring beta waves. The treatment utilizes a reward system: when the brainwave frequency is in a relaxed state, it is rewarded via the screen appearing “normal”. When the brain wave frequency moves out of its window of tolerance (or peaceful state), the screen will alter forcing the brain to modify its patterns in order to get to that reward state, or to the brain’s optimal level. The more neurofeedback sessions an individual has, the longer the brain stays in an optimal state, and therefore, the brain learns how to self-regulate its system. It is perfectly normal for the brain to continue to experience inhibition as the beta wave frequencies will naturally alter depending on an individual’s activity and emotional state.

Through neurofeedback an individual can reduce problematic symptoms associated with low or high frequency beta waves and achieve optimal brain health.

Check out our website for more information on neurofeedback and its therapeutic applications. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment or would like to consult with a neurofeedback technician, feel free to contact us. Tune back next week to read about how the adolescent brain differs from the adult brain.