You may have heard about an innovative new treatment method called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS therapy. This non-invasive brain stimulation technique has accumulated an impressive amount of research supporting its effectiveness in treating depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
But maybe you’re not depressed — you’re anxious. You wake up every morning filled with dread and worry, and it’s hard to fall asleep at night. You can’t stop ruminating over things in your past. You might even feel physical symptoms, like a racing heart and sweaty hands.
TMS therapy can give renewed energy and hope to people with depression. Could it help with anxiety, too?
Read on to learn more.
Your Brain and Anxiety
TMS therapy works by stimulating certain regions of the brain with electromagnetic coils. To fully understand how TMS therapy might help someone with anxiety, it’s important to first understand how anxiety affects the brain.
Anxiety affects the way different regions of your brain communicate with each other. Specifically, anxiety changes the communication between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.
The amygdala is the part of your brain’s limbic system. This is the part of the brain that’s responsible for regulating emotions, including fear, and sends out signals to let you know you may be in danger. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls wise judgments, decision-making, and other executive functions like goal-setting and attention.
In a brain without anxiety, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex – your fear brain and your wise brain, we could say — have constant, helpful communication with one another. Your prefrontal cortex is able to decide when the fear signals that your amygdala is sending out are worth listening to.
For example, maybe you see an airplane flying overhead, and your amygdala sends out a fear response that the plane will fall on you. In a brain without anxiety, the prefrontal cortex kicks in to tell us: “No, that isn’t rational. Planes don’t just fall out of the sky. You don’t need to be anxious about that. That’s not a real danger.”
Scientists think that when you have anxiety, these two areas of the brain don’t communicate properly. Your amygdala is overactive, and sends too many fear signals to your prefrontal cortex, overpowering it. You lose your ability to rationalize, and the anxiety takes over — which leads to the fear and worry you feel.
Will TMS Therapy Help Me with Anxiety?
This is a simplified explanation, and scientists are still studying how exactly anxiety affects the brain. But scans have shown that certain areas of the brain do become activated under an anxiety response, which begs the question: could using TMS therapy to stimulate specific parts of the brain affected by anxiety be helpful?
Although TMS therapy hasn’t yet been approved for treating anxiety disorders, the research has been promising. One preliminary study measured the effects of TMS therapy for people with generalized anxiety disorder. It found that over half of their participants felt less anxiety after receiving TMS therapy, and some of them even went into remission.
Another randomized control trial found similar results: TMS therapy, targeted toward the right prefrontal cortex, was helpful in reducing people’s anxiety symptoms.
It makes sense that TMS therapy would be effective for treating anxiety because it’s already been proven to be an effective and safe treatment choice for depression. Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand; if you’re having symptoms of both depression and anxiety, then TMS therapy is more likely to work for you.
More studies need to be conducted before TMS therapy is FDA-approved for the treatment of anxiety disorders. But these studies, and so many more like them, offer hope that the day this innovative treatment starts bringing relief to the millions of people around the world who live with an anxiety disorder.
Pros and Cons of TMS Therapy for Anxiety
TMS Therapy may be helpful for treating anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Here are some pros and cons of this treatment to consider while deciding whether TMS therapy is right for you.
Pros of TMS Therapy
- It’s safe. TMS therapy is a non-invasive procedure, which means that you don’t need to undergo surgery to receive it. There may be some side effects, but the risk of developing any serious side effects, like seizures, is very rare.
- It has little to no side effects. Some people report mild side effects with TMS therapy, like fatigue and scalp pain. However, these side effects usually go away. TMS is well-tolerated by most people, and many people choose TMS therapy over medication because of the lack of side effects.
- It doesn’t require anesthesia. Because TMS therapy is non-invasive, you won’t have to go under anesthesia for your sessions. This means that you’ll be able to drive yourself to and from your appointments.
- It reduces the brain activity that leads to anxiety. Because TMS therapy is able to target your brain activity directly, it can counteract the hyperactivity that people with anxiety experience in some regions of the brain. When these parts of the brain slow down, anxiety gets better.
- It can lead to remission from anxiety symptoms. Most anti-anxiety medications merely manage your symptoms — in other words, if you stop taking the medication, your symptoms may come back. Some evidence suggests that TMS therapy may lead to full remission from anxiety symptoms, an effect that could last even after you stop going to appointments.
Cons of TMS Therapy
- Insurance can be complicated. Some insurance companies require you to have tried several types of medication before approving you for TMS therapy, and it can be expensive out-of-pocket.
- It’s not yet FDA-approved for anxiety. Currently, TMS therapy is FDA-approved as a treatment for depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and migraine — but there’s evidence supporting its use for anxiety, panic disorder, chronic pain, and more.
- It requires a time commitment. You will receive TMS therapy five days a week for up to six weeks. Although the appointments only last between 30 minutes to an hour, make sure you have this time to commit to treatment before you begin.
Is TMS Therapy Right for Me?
Only you can make the decision about whether or not TMS therapy is right for you. If you’d like more information or if you’re ready to try this innovative treatment for your anxiety disorder, give Genesis Behavioral Health a call today (210-404-9696) or reach out through our contact page to ask about our TMS services.
Our comprehensive mental health center also offers therapy for those struggling with anxiety. To learn more about how Genesis Behavioral Health can help you cope with anxiety and support you on your healing journey, please reach out to intake via phone (210-404-9696) or email. We look forward to serving you!