Tag: focus

Brainwave Entrainment and Binaural Beats: Could They Help You?

I first discovered brainwave entrainment several months ago while desperately searching for something (ANYTHING!) to help my ADHD brain focus and be more productive at home and at work. As anyone in the mental health field can attest to, seeing and trying to help clients is only half of what we do. The rest of our time generally gets dedicated to documentation, and no or little focus doesn’t create productive progress note writing. At all. If you ever wonder why we always seem to look so darn busy, it’s because we seriously are! And other fields are finding themselves in similar conundrums. Paperwork and documentation are a large part of most people’s jobs in this day and age (ask any educator or business owner, or pretty much anyone else out there doing their best to make a living). Whether one has ADHD or not, the struggle is real!

So as I spent my time procrastinating, I happened to come upon a Udemy course on sale that day that assured me that they could increase my focus and productivity. I was skeptical, but it was on sale, and I was procrastinating… So I signed up. That’s when I first learned about one of the most effective productivity boosters and anxiety relievers I’ve ever been so fortunate to find. No prescription needed. Brainwave entrainment.

Brainwave entrainment actually isn’t a new concept. It’s been learned about and heavily researched for quite some time actually. The basic premise of brainwave entrainment is that by using certain tools and technologies, like binaural beats, isochronic tones, alpha waves, beta waves, and lots of other types of waves, for example, we can literally alter our brainwaves for the primary purpose of changing the way we feel or our current mood or behavior state. Oh yeah, I was intrigued.

Let’s say you have a very stressful job. Brainwave entrainment would allow you to be able to slow your brain down and operate from a more chilled-out perspective – legally! No drugs required. Or let’s say you’ve been assigned to brainstorm some new innovative ideas for work. You can use brainwave entrainment tools to change your brainwaves to help improve your concentration and actually enhance your creative juices. Need to study for that big college final exam? Brainwave entrainment can enhance your focus and studying so that you’re actually retaining all that information you’re reviewing. Any insomniacs out there? Brainwave entrainment can adjust your brainwaves to the same level they normally operate from when you do sleep, resulting in putting you to sleep in much less time.

There’s actually a lot of things you can use brainwave entrainment for. The research says that using brainwave entrainment tools and technologies, a number of mental and physical benefits can be attained or enhanced. To list a few:

  • pre-exercise energy
  • headache relief
  • hangover relief
  • pain relief
  • lower levels of anxiety
  • stress reduction
  • anger relief
  • improvement of concentration and focus (even in those of us who have been diagnosed with ADHD)
  • increased attention
  • memory boost
  • help with learning and studying
  • assist with improved problem-solving and brainstorming
  • improved critical thinking
  • improved lateral thinking
  • improved mental clarity
  • boost motivation
  • power nap assistance
  • deep sleep
  • lucid dreaming
  • night meditation
  • general relaxation
  • mindful meditation
  • assistance in waking up
  • improved confidence and self-esteem
  • enhanced creativity
  • boost in positive mood
  • improved energy levels
  • increased inspiration
  • improved insight
  • improved intuition
  • progressive brain training

To say I was amazed would be an understatement, but I was still pretty skeptical at first. Then I downloaded a couple binaural beats apps on my phone…

Binaural Beats

A binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, and with less than a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented to a listener dichotically (one through each ear). The results can be so powerful, transformative, and healing, as your attention shifts left and right over your body’s midline. For anyone who has ever had EMDR therapy, crossing the midline is a major contributing factor to why it can be so effective.

Research shows that listening to binaural beats is an emerging and effective method to even stop migraines and aide in chronic pain treatment. Additionally, the healing frequencies of binaural beats are shown to help with symptoms of several other mental health conditions, including ADHD, anxiety, insomnia, and stress!

How Do Binaural Beats Work?

Find your headphones or ear buds and find a quiet place. Make sure that you use both ear buds, one in each ear. As explained by Banzai Labs, “This beat is indirectly perceived as opposed to directly heard since it’s below the range of human hearing. For each brainwave sequence, the frequency of this perceived beat has been engineered to precisely match a target brainwave frequency. The effect on the brainwaves depends on the difference in frequencies of each tone.”

Within minutes, the listener’s own brainwaves begin to fall into step with, and synchronize with, this binaural beat, inducing states ranging from intense concentration and focus to deep sleep. This synchronization process is referred to as “brainwave entrainment.”

Binaural Beats Apps

The best binaural apps will allow you to listen to your favorite music while the binaural beat plays behind it (remember, you can’t hear the beat). Other apps play sounds like ambient music in them, and yet others play various types of white noises or nature sounds. Which app you choose, should you decide to try brainwave entrainment, should be based on the type of music and/or sounds you prefer to hear and find most comfortable.

Personally, I find the binaural beat apps that allow me to sync my music playlists to the binaural beats more preferable than listening to rain and thunderstorms, but that’s just me. I work better listening to music I already know I like, but this is obviously a personal choice for everyone.

To find binaural beat apps, go to your phone’s App Store and search for “binaural beats.” You’ll find a number of these apps. I recommend reading the reviews and checking their ratings, as some seem to work better and are found more preferable than others. Also, decide what purpose you would like to use binaural beats to help you with. For instance, I sought out apps that specifically noted being able to help concentration and focus, creativity, anxiety relief, and stress relief. But if you’re an insomniac desperately wanting sleep, look for the apps that specify that they are for improved relaxation, mindfulness, and sleep. See, each binaural beat affects a different brainwave or set of brainwaves in your brain. If I’m looking to improve my focus but download a binaural beats app that specifies that it helps with sleep, those binaural beats apps are not going to help me in my desperate search to improve my concentration and be more productive.

My personal favorite binaural beats app is called Brain Wave 35 Binaural Series, which is one of the few binaural beats apps that does come at a cost (this particular one cost either $1.99 or $2.99 and the buyer gains permanent access to the app). 35 Binaural Brainwave Entrainment Programs has binaural beats for things like focus, memory, relaxation, sleep, power naps, mediation, energy, positive mood, anxiety relief, stress relief, relaxation, meditation, and much more. With this particular app, I’m able to play my choice binaural beats with ambience, nature sounds, or sync to my iTunes playlists. It can be used on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, so I also liked that I could use it on many devices. I also understand that one could use this app with Spotify or even with an Audio Book Reader; instructions are provided in the app description. (Please note, I am not affiliated in any way with the company that created this app, nor am I receiving any payment for endorsing its product; I just really like this app!)

Are There Any Potential Negative Side Effects to Listening to Binaural Beats?

Based on the current scientific research available, there are no serious risks or side effects of listening to binaural beats that have been reported. Obviously, you don’t want to listen at a very high volume, as high volumes can damage your ear drums. It is recommended that you use over-the-ear headphones if you have them to minimize any potential damage, the best being noise-cancelling headphones, but I personally just use the earbuds that my phone came with.

Realize, however, that people are very seldom deficient in a certain brainwave type in all areas of their brain. We’re all different when it comes to the distribution of our brainwaves. Boosting a certain brainwave state may be beneficial for one person, but emotionally uncomfortable for another. So, it can be rather “hit and miss.”

If brainwave entrainment leaves you with any rare, but unwanted side effects or discomfort, you’re probably encouraging a range of brainwaves that are already excessive in some area of your brain. If you’re concerned about this and would prefer, a way to get around this is to attain a brain map to see what your brain’s strengths and weaknesses are, and see what, if any, brainwaves could use some binaural beat encouragement.

BrainWorks Neurotherapy offers a few general guidelines to follow if you decide to use brainwave entrainment tools and technologies; following these are said to “greatly limit your risk of any discomfort:”

  • Don’t overdo it; most cases of any side effects come after overuse. A fifteen minute session is sufficient to begin (or 3-5 minutes if using audio/visual entrainment). Everyone reacts differently, and this will help you determine your sensitivity before jumping in.
  • If you experience increased anxiety, overwhelming subconscious images, convulsions, nausea, headaches, dizziness, or increased heartbeat, discontinue use immediately and permanently. Note that these types of rare reactions are more associated with using audio/visual entrainment tools, not the app types I’ve discussed in this article.
  • Do not use brainwave entrainment if you have any brainwave hyper-arousal or instability symptoms.

BrainWorks Neurotherapy does note that “the vast majority of people have no ill-effects from brainwave entrainment.” The most common side effect is simply feeling a little unusual for a while. If you do happen to experience any unwanted effects, stop using it, give it a few days, and you will return to normal.

My Favorite “Non-Therapeutic” Games… Perfection

Perfection game photoPlaying games in therapy is one of my most favorite things to do in my profession as a therapist.  Children especially enjoy game play, as they also like having a willing opponent in which to play games.  In my practice, I use specialty therapeutic games, which are games that are specifically created and designed to address particular mental health issues and challenges (e.g., impulse control, positive thinking, etc.), as well as traditional board and card games that you can purchase at a department store (e.g., UNO, CandyLand, etc.).  I call this latter group of games “non-therapeutic” because they were not specifically designed to be used as therapeutic techniques in mental health.  The truth is that regardless of whether a game is specifically designed with a therapeutic purpose in mind or not, ANY game can be made to have therapeutic value in my playroom.

I’ve explored various techniques that I use with the games Jenga, Find It, and Sorry! in previous posts.  In this post I’m going to show you the therapeutic value of the classic game Perfection with children who have difficulty with focus, attention, and concentration and those who need to develop more effective problem-solving skills and appropriate coping strategies.  Perfection is an excellent game to help with all these things!

How to Play Perfection

The object of the game Perfection is to fit all the shapes into their matching holes in the game tray.  Pictured in this post is the travel edition of Perfection, which includes 16 shapes, but the original game actually has 25 shapes that you have to fit.

To set the game up, the player spreads the shape pieces next to the game tray so that he or she can easily access the pieces.  It helps if all of the handles are facing up, though if you’re looking for the added challenge, leave the shapes as they are.  Then the player sets the timer (on the game tray) so that they have 60 seconds of time to complete their task (for the travel edition of this game, the timer will be set to 30 seconds as there are fewer shape pieces).

Next the player simply presses down on the game unit’s pop-up tray and starts the timer.  The player then has to quickly fit the shapes into their matching holes.  If he or she finishes before the timer runs out, they should quickly turn the timer off; their turn is over and they have successfully completed their task (they win!).  If he or she DOES NOT finish before the timer runs out, the tray will pop up and scatter the shapes all over (and nearly scare you both to death in the process!).

How to  Make Perfection Therapeutic

Perfection is played no differently in therapy than how it is played regularly.  When I first introduce the game to a child, I teach them how to play and let them play two or three times without any intervention from me.  During this independent game play, I observe the child’s behaviors:  Does the child become easily frustrated?  How does the child handle the stress and frustration of trying to beat the timer?  Is this method effective for them?  How well are they able to concentrate and focus?  Are they easily distracted?  More likely than not, you will find that most kids get in such a hurry to beat the timer that they actually decrease their efficiency of successfully completing the task due to their inability to remain calm and focus on the task itself.

After the observation phase, I discuss my observations with the child.  I then prompt him or her to brainstorm ways to improve, offering suggestions such as slowing down, remaining calm, using deep breathing techniques, and staying focused.  I then role play these new techniques with the child while they play the game again (and sometimes, again and again).

Soon you (and the child) will see visible improvement in their efficiency in completing the game’s task.  The goal, whether achieved that day or a few sessions down the road, is for the child to be able to utilize effective and appropriate coping and problem solving skills during game play, as well as in real life situations that he or she may encounter.  For this reason, it is important to process and even role play these new skills and how they can be utilized in various life situations, such as when taking a test in school.  It’s remarkable how easily kids will remember their new skills all because they played the game Perfection!

 

My Favorite “Non-Therapeutic” Games… Find It

Find It GameI love using games in therapy, and kids love playing games in therapy!  Last week I posted about the use of the Jenga game as a therapeutic intervention during counseling sessions.  It’s an excellent resource for just about any topic or skill that you’re trying to teach to kids, adolescents, and adults alike.  I use a number of games in therapy sessions, both therapeutic and “non-therapeutic.”  The difference between the two is what their intent and purpose was when the game makers created them.  “Non-therapeutic” games are simply those that you can find at your local department store in the game aisle, like Candy Land, Jenga, and Operation, but in my experience, ANY game, regardless of its intent during creation, can be made therapeutic.  Today’s game can be found in both therapy resource catalogs AND the game aisle.

Find It as a Therapeutic Intervention

Find It, like Jenga, is another one of my favorite “non-therapeutic” games to use as a therapeutic intervention with children and adolescents.  Find It is a classic I Spy game that comes in a nice sturdy cylindrical container filled with miscellaneous small objects to find (e.g., a rubber band, an eraser, a feather, etc.) that are hidden in a colorful array of beads, pebbles, or dried rice (depending on which version of Find It that you choose).  I primarily use the game with children and teens that I’m treating for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or who have other issues in which they have difficulty with focus and attention.  I use the game to help improve their concentration and focus, as well as to informally assess their distress tolerance.  The object of the game is simple:  Find as many objects from an included list as you can.  You can do this activity timed or take as long as you need.

The first time I give a child the Find It game during session, I collect baseline data by setting a time limit (for example, 10 or 15 minutes) and assess how many objects they can find within that given time frame.  The game itself includes a small notepad checklist, so we mark each item off as it is found.  I write down the time limit I give the child (whether it was 10 or 15 minutes) and the number of objects found, and then I put the information in the child’s file so I can access it in future sessions.

How Often to Use Find It in Session

We play the game intermittently; the next time we play the game is generally a few sessions after I’ve collected the initial baseline data.  The sessions in between are spent doing other focus improving activities in order to help the child develop his or her skills.  When we play the game again, I give the child the same time limit as before.  Again the child is asked to perform the same task:  Find as many objects as possible before time is up.  The objects are never in the same place as they were initially, as each movement of the container shakes and jumbles the objects around.  I record the data afterward, just as I did the first time the child played.  This time I’m looking to assess whether the child’s scores (number of objects found in a given time) have improved as a result of our working on their focus, concentration, and attention span.

Find It as a Tool to Improve Distress Tolerance

Find It also allows me to see how a child tolerates the distress and frustration that comes with sometimes having difficulty finding the small objects.  During game play, if a child is becoming noticeably distressed, I teach coping and self-regulation methods that they can use to slow down and bring their focus back to the game again.  Between sessions, we will work on improving the child’s distress tolerance and learning effective coping skills to help handle frustration.

How Long to Use the Find It Game

I generally give the child the Find It game and assess their focus once every few sessions until I see that their scores have significantly improved and/or their distress tolerance is handled appropriately on a consistent basis.  Once I see that the child has improved, we put the game away, though the child usually ends up getting it out at the beginning or end of future sessions as a transition activity.

 

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