“I Tried Brainwave Optimization To Help My Anxiety — Here’s What It’s Like”
The list of anxiety busters is looooooong: everything from music, tea, scents and even blankets can help. Now, a relatively new option is available, to help insomnia, stress, concentration problems and trauma. It’s called Brainwave Optimization.
The idea behind Brainwave Optimization is simple: electronic nodes are placed at various points on your head, creating a map of your brainwave activity. It then identifies the imbalances and works to correct those by feeding those brainwaves back to you in soundwaves. The idea is that as the brain “hears” itself, it can begin to relax and repair.
The science isn’t conclusive. “As far as we are aware and based on preliminary review, the efficacy of BWO has not been confirmed or reproduced by independent scientists,” says Dr Kathleen Bateman, neuroscientist and researcher at the Division of Neurology at UCT. “There is no clear clinical benefit that has been confirmed, and the only (limited) evidence comes from investigators who have themselves declared significant potential conflicts of interest.”
Even so, Neurobalance, the facilitators of the treatment in Cape Town, are clear that they’re not out to treat, cure or heal any disease or illness. “We are not medical, and what we do is a sped-up form of meditation,” says Penny Louw, who facilitated my sessions at Neurobalance.
“We believe that there are ideal ratios for brainwave activity for ideal function and that when we experience a situation of trauma overwhelm, when we get into a situation where we stop coping, then that trauma is stored. Different kinds of trauma are stored differently,” says Louw. ” In the session, we’re giving the brain information about its own function that it can start calming down and relaxing because the more calm and relaxed you are, the more functional you are.” There are people who swear by the treatment, including some who say it’s helped their athletic performance, so I gave it a go.
According to Louw, my brain mapped showed signs of overthinking. “One of the things your brain does under stress is it speeds up,” says Louw. “That’s your brain’s response to cognitive stress. But it actually just burns up your reserves, making you exhausted.” To correct that, I signed up for the standard six sessions, two hours long each. The sessions involve what I can only call a nap, with electrodes being applied to different parts of the brain at intervals. While I’m asleep (my eyes must be closed, at least), brainwaves are fed back to me in sound. There are different options to choose from, including piano, guitar notes and human intonations.
After every appointment, I feel… rested. This could be because I was waking up from a two-hour nap, but it could also be because the sessions were working. I’m told to keep track of my moods during and after the treatment using Moodscope, but I’m pretty lazy and opt to track via Moods, a simple app that lets you log your mood and track it over time.
I do feel a little different after the two weeks and six sessions are up. To start, I had bad shoulder pain, was feeling constantly frazzled and was constantly tired. But after a while, I started sleeping better and felt calmer. I’m not opposed to things that aren’t clinically proven. After all, the benefits of yoga went unstudied for centuries. It’s been about a month since my sessions and while BWO is by no means a magic bullet, I still feel a little better, more alert, more energetic and calmer.