TMS for Anxiety

Anxiety is a common mental health disorder, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Here’s what you need to know about TMS for anxiety.

TMS for Anxiety

Article Contents

What is Anxiety?

Considering treatment for anxiety? Learn more how TMS for anxiety works, what to expect and who can benefit from it. Yet, what is anxiety? Modern life is full of stress. From work to maintaining a social life to family obligations and more, most of us have an overflowing schedule. A natural response our bodies have to stress is anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling of fear about an event to come, whether a job interview, giving a speech, or the first day of school. 

While uncomfortable, regular anxiety is a short-term feeling that is your body’s way of helping you work hard, be vigilant, and do your best. 

However, when feelings of anxiety are too intense, last for long periods, and interfere with your ability to function in everyday life, you may have an anxiety disorder.  

Anxiety Symptoms 

Anxiety is a unique feeling and can be different depending on the person who experiences it. For some people, it can feel like being in a fog, while for others, it is butterflies in the stomach and a racing heartbeat. 

However, some signs of general anxiety that many people experience include: 

  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Rapid heart rate.  

Causes of Anxiety 

The exact cause of anxiety disorders is not known. It is more likely that anxiety comes from a variety of factors rather than just one. There are specific genetic and environmental factors that seem to contribute to anxiety as well as one’s brain chemistry. Researchers have started to pinpoint specific areas of the brain that are responsible for controlling fear that might be impacted. 

Risks Factors for Anxiety 

While some anxiety is common and even beneficial, uncontrolled anxiety can severely impact an individual’s health and quality of life.  

Some of the long-term risks that anxiety presents include: 

  • Depression
  • Insomnia 
  • Digestive problems
  • Increased blood pressure 
  • Cardiovascular problems 
  • Headaches 
  • Social isolation 
  • Difficulty functioning at work or school
  • Substance or alcohol misuse   

The Most Common Types of Anxiety

Anxiety can present in all forms. However, two common forms of anxiety are social and high functioning anxiety.

Social Anxiety 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 15 million Americans suffer from social anxiety. It is the most diagnosed anxiety disorder after specific phobias.1

Social anxiety is the fear of being judged or rejected in a social or performance situation. Those with social anxiety may worry that they appear anxious to others (such as blush, stuttering, or stumbling over words) or that they are viewed as stupid, awkward, or boring.

Those who experience social anxiety may avoid social situations and experience significant anxiety when they cannot prevent them. 

High Functioning Anxiety 

For some people, their anxiety disorder is debilitating. It keeps them from functioning in their everyday lives and presents them with severe symptoms. To the outside observer, though, their life may be normal. In fact, they may even appear successful and calm, like the typical Type A personality.  

However, these people’s inner lives are very different. Although not recognized in diagnostic literature, many people suffer from anxiety even though they function well in their lives. 

High functioning anxiety propels people forward rather than paralyzing them, as in other forms of anxiety. Although outwardly all appears well, the anxiety does inevitably come out. Those with high functioning anxiety have the potential for substance use abuse as a method of coping.   

Treatment Options for Anxiety and Addiction

No matter what form of anxiety you may have, there is help. There are several different options for treatment for anxiety:  

CBT 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, concentrates on shifting unwanted behaviors and thoughts. Research shows that CBT is an effective therapy for anxiety disorders. It is currently one of the leading treatments for anxiety.2

The underlying premise of CBT is that our thoughts, and not necessarily external events, affect the way we feel. While we cannot always change our situation, we can shift our perception of the problem. Therapy helps identify and correct negative thought patterns to switch to more positive ones. 

Anxiety Medications 

Medication can be helpful alongside therapy on a short-term or as-needed basis. However, anti-anxiety drugs have the potential for abuse, so it is usually prescribed for a very limited time. For example, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication in the case of acute anxiety (also known as a panic attack). 

Antidepressants can also be used to treat various anxiety disorders, especially those that work as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs). 

Natural Therapies

There are specific natural and holistic therapies that can reduce anxiety naturally. Exercise can help ease anxiety, for example, and medication can slow racing thoughts to make stress more manageable. Relaxation exercises can also help counteract unconscious tension.

Some research shows that certain herbal teas, such as chamomile can help lower stress hormones naturally.3 When used alongside therapy, natural methods can help make anxiety more manageable. 

Psychotherapy  

Beyond CBT, other forms of therapy can help improve anxiety. Some other forms of treatment include:

  • Exposure therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy 
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy 
  • Interpersonal Therapy

What is TMS?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation can also go by the names TMS or rTMS (for repetitive TMS). Through the process of neurostimulation, it uses electromagnetic impulses to help regulate the processes in the brain and facilitate healing.  

TMS treatment is safe, non-invasive, and can help reorder the structure within the brain to fight off anxiety. Many experts are using TMS for anxiety, especially those with anxiety resistant to other forms of treatment. 

How can TMS help in anxiety treatment? 

Researchers have found that one specific part of the brain, the amygdala, is heightened when faced with anxiety. In the case of anxiety disorders, researchers believe that it becomes hyperresponsive along with other parts of the limbic center.4

The amygdala is a more primal part of our brain and controls our fear response. In case of emergency, it overrides our more rational prefrontal cortex. In anxiety, this can happen even without an actual threat.

In transcranial magnetic stimulation, electromagnetic impulses help to build the prefrontal cortex and restore balance to the brain. This balance can then ease many of the symptoms of anxiety. 

What to Expect in TMS therapy? 

For those who need more help than traditional therapy can give, TMS for anxiety can provide valuable assistance.

How Long is the Therapy?

TMS treatment typically consists of two sessions a week for three weeks in a row. However, treatment is unique and depends on the patient. 

Each session typically takes between 30-40 minutes.

How to Prepare for TMS?

To ensure that rTMS is safe and effective, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam in addition to other lab tests. They will also perform a thorough psychiatric evaluation to discuss symptoms and past treatments.

Who Administers TMS?

When using TMS for anxiety, treatment is administered by a trained professional, usually either a doctor or TMS technician.    

Who cannot get TMS Therapy?

While TMS for anxiety is relatively safe, certain groups may need to avoid it:

  • Those who are pregnant or may become pregnant
  • Individuals with a history of seizures or a family history of epilepsy. 
  • Those with certain forms of brain damage from illness or injury (i.e., a stroke) 
  • Individuals with frequent and severe headaches. 
  • Those with certain medical conditions.

Be sure to discuss your medical history with your doctor before performing TMS for anxiety.

Benefits of TMS Therapy

TMS for anxiety has multiple benefits, especially for those resistant to other forms of treatment. Because it focuses on changing the structures in the brain that result in anxiety, it can help bring about more lasting change.

High-success rate

TMA has a higher success rate than many other types of therapy. In one 2014 study, almost half of the individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD) who received TMS treatment were in remission, versus one patient in the placebo group.

Non-invasive 

For many years, doctors have used electroconvulsive therapy as an anxiety treatment. Although it is was fairly effective, it was also highly invasive and had severe side effects. rTMS therapy harnesses the effectiveness of the previous anxiety treatment. 

No-side effects 

The most reported side effect of TMS therapy was a mild headache, but it is not common. It is also easily treated with minor pain-relieving medication, such as Tylenol. 

For those who struggle with anxiety and find it difficult to function, TMS therapy can provide hope.  

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