Brain Self-Regulation

The human brain is vastly complicated. It is the most complicated thing in the universe, some would argue. It is so complicated, that to even think about how complicated it is, is complicated! With over 100 billion neurons, trillions of glial cells, trillions of synapses that connect everything, and 1,000,000,000,000,000 nerve cell firings every second, it is immensely complicated!

Then there is the fact that the brain is always “running” nearly at top speed, even when we are asleep. Most of this activity is the brain “talking” to itself.

We used to think that the brain’s function was mostly the result of the chemicals that nerve cells use to communicate with each other. Too little serotonin spells depression; too little dopamine, spells ADHD or Parkinson’s. This chemical model of dysfunction led to the explosion of pharmaceutical medications to try and help “fix” these conditions. It turns out that chemicals are not the only means by which the brain communicates with itself. Although they are important, chemicals are not the main “messengers” the brain uses.

Because nerve cells are built to fire an impulse, and it takes very little for them to do this, most of the brain’s activity is used to slow itself down and to prevent itself from spinning out of control. Most of the activity of the brain is involved in inhibiting itself. This we call “self-regulation.” When it does this correctly, and it somehow is able to do this most of the time, we are able to function in our daily activities. When the brain is not inhibiting itself effectively, when it is not self-regulating in this way, problems arise.

Research has shown that the brain is much more than a chemical organ. The brain is also an electrical organ. Indeed, the real function of the chemicals is to regulate the electrical signals. It is the timing of the elctrical signals that allows the brain to do its work.

Recent research has also shown us that the brain is not compartmentalized. It is wrong to think that “this” part” of the brain does “X,” while this “other part” does “Y.” The fact is that all parts of the brain are in communication with each other all the time. They are all “at the table” all the time. What determines what happens is the intensity of their voices and whether or not what they have to say is timed correctly. If they speak after a decision has been reached, it will be too late.

Still, it is more than this. Whether or not a nerve cell “fires” is dependent on the information it receives from other nerve cells. Cooperation is essential. Those other nerve cells have to get their signals to the nerve cell of interest at precisely the same time. If some are a little to early or a little too late, the nerve cell will not fire, and this may result in problems for the human being with that brain. So to better coordinate all this, it is necessary to slow some signals down and/or speed some up so that they all arrive at the same time. This is what ILF neurofeedback helps the brain to do.

This vast amount of communication is accomplished through electrical activity, through your brain waves. Only electrical activity — and not chemicals — has the ability to provide the speed necessary for all this to happen.

Hanno Kirk writes, “Given the dependence of good brain function on universal timing integrity throughout the brain, we have identified a potentail failure mode that could, in principle, account for mental dysfunctions, either directly or indirectly. A variety of internal and external factors, like stroke, brain injury, or toxins, can disrupt or inactivate normal patterns of communication among neural networks through structural disruption of neural integrity. Others, like emotional or physical trauma or various mental deficiencies, can emerge out of chronic patterns of electrical instability and/or over- and under-activation in parts of the brain. The dysregulation of brain timing would be expected to yield what we call soft failures, rather than the hard failures we might see in a stroke. The functional deficits are on a continuum, and they exhibit variability and dependencies on a variety of factors,” (Restoring the Brain: Neurofeedback as an integrative approach to health, 2016, p. 14).

When the brain is not regulating itself well, problems can arise. If the timing of information flow in the brain, if self-regulation of this timing is off, symptoms will show up.
The following areas of function are affected by self-regulation:

  • arousal regulation (how awake or sedated you feel)
  • emotional regulation (depression, anxiety, PTSD, trauma, rage, anger, etc)
  • autonomic nervous system regulation (set-point and balance)
  • interoception (ability to sense internal states)
  • motor system excitability (muscle issues, like tension, pain, tremors, spasms, etc)
  • attention (ADHD)
  • executive function (planning, organization, thinking logically, OCD, etc)
  • working memory (hard to hold onto information long enough to use it productively)
  • sensory issues (sensitivities especially, awareness)
  • cognitive processes (busy mind, racing thoughts, psychosis, etc)

Clearly, by regulating the timing of the electrical information the brain uses to regulate itself, by helping the brain to regulate itself better, a person can resolve a wide array of symptoms.

It is the timing of the electrical signals — your brain waves — which is what ILF neurofeedback influences. Neurofeedback helps the brain to regulate itself better, and with improved regulation comes many health benefits.

The really impressive thing about ILF neurofeedback is the way it does it. It is totally non-invasive. We put nothing into your brain or remove anything. There are no meds to take and no surgeries to perform. With neurofeedback, we show your brain what it is doing, and it decides how to change the way it communicates with itself. Over time, with neurofeedback training, your brain learns how to self-regulate. As it does this, as it learns to better self-regulate, your symptoms fall away.

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