TMS Therapy for Anxiety

TMS Therapy for Anxiety

Author: GIA Chicago
Published: November 22, 2022

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a safe and noninvasive treatment primarily used to treat major depressive disorder. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the treatment uses magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cell activity in different areas of the brain.

As well as treating medication-resistant depression and aiding in the reduction of depression symptoms, research has shown the effectiveness of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy for anxiety and other mental health disorders. In this article, we will explore what exactly anxiety is, the different variations and symptoms of this mental health disorder, the ins and outs of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and how the procedure can help treat anxiety.

What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

What Is an Anxiety Disorder?

It is likely that we will all experience anxiety at some point in our lives. It's a normal reaction to certain situations or life events, with symptoms typically subsiding after a short period of time. Maybe you feel anxious before a job interview or before you have to make an important decision about something, However, individuals living with an anxiety disorder frequently experience excessive, intense, and constant fear and worry about everyday life situations.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association, anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the US. In fact, generalized anxiety disorder is thought to affect 6.8 million adults in a single year. The anxiety symptoms that individuals experience are difficult to keep under control and persistently interfere with daily activities. In some cases, those living with anxiety disorders may even avoid certain situations or places to prevent anxiety symptoms.

If you are living with an anxiety disorder, it is important to know that there are a range of effective treatment options that have been proven to reduce anxiety symptoms.

What Are Anxiety Symptoms?

Anxiety symptoms can vary depending on what type of anxiety disorder you are living with. However, there are general symptoms that are experienced by all, including mental and physical symptoms such as:

  • Feeling restless, nervous, or tense
  • Sense of impending panic, doom, or danger
  • Sweating
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased heart rate
  • Issues concentrating
  • Obsessive or uncontrollable thoughts
  • Inability to be calm or still

Different Anxiety Disorders

There are a variety of anxiety disorders that exist, including:

Generalized anxiety disorder

If you are living with a generalized anxiety disorder, you may experience unrealistic and extreme worry about certain events or activities, even if they are routine or ordinary issues. Most days, you may feel worried about various things, such as work, school, relationships, or health. This worry can pass from one thing to the next and is out of proportion to the actual situation.

The worry that you experience is difficult to control and can physically affect how you feel. Some physical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Restlessness

Social anxiety disorder

Those with a social anxiety disorder experience overwhelming self-consciousness and worry about different social situations. Common worries include feeling anxious that you may embarrass yourself, and worry that those surrounding you will judge you or that you will be negatively viewed by others. This can result in complete avoidance of social situations.

Separation anxiety disorder

This form of anxiety is most likely to affect children or teens who fear and worry about being separated from their loved ones. A common fear is that something bad will happen to their parents or caregivers when they are not with them.

Panic disorder

A panic disorder is characterized by episodes of intense and sudden feelings of fear, anxiety, or terror that reach a certain peak within minutes, known as panic attacks. These feelings can start unexpectedly or they can be triggered by a certain situation or place. If you experience panic attacks you may feel:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Impending doom
  • Heart palpitations

Once you have experienced a panic attack, you may worry about experiencing them again which can result in you avoiding places where they have occurred.

Specific phobias

Phobias are a severe fear of specific objects or situations. In some cases, their fears are rational, such as of snakes or spiders, however, more often than not, the level of fear experienced is not aligned with the situation. At times, certain phobias can induce panic attacks in some individuals.

What is Anxious Depression?

Anxious depression refers to the anxiety symptoms that are experienced by individuals who have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). This differs from those who experience depression symptoms that are triggered by an original diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Research has found that around 60-90% of individuals with depression are also living with moderate to severe anxiety.

The current treatment options available for anxiety comorbid with depression are the same as those for different anxiety disorders and major depressive disorders. However, transcranial magnetic stimulation offers an alternative option that addresses many of the limitations that are associated with traditional treatment options.

What Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy?

What Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive treatment that uses an electromagnetic coil to create magnetic pulses. The magnetic pulses produced stimulate nerve cells that are thought to improve symptoms of neurological or other mental health disorders.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is mainly used to treat medication and treatment-resistant depression. It was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2008 to alleviate depression symptoms in individuals who found no improvement from other means of treatment.

TMS has since been used to treat depression and anxiety by enhancing activity in specific areas of the brain, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Research has suggested that depression is closely linked to reduced activity in this area of the brain, therefore, TMS works by stimulating the nerve cells which increases activity in the prefrontal cortex.

Research has also found that TMS may improve symptoms in other disorders such as:

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Alzheimer's disease

Different Types of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

There are two different types of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) that can target different areas of the brain.

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (RTMS) is simply the more precise term for TMS. It is called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (RTMS) as the treatment delivers repeated magnetic pulses to stimulate brain activity in areas of the brain associated with mood regulation.

A repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) treatment session will typically last for around 30-60 minutes and does not require any anesthesia as it is a non-invasive treatment. During the procedure, a medical professional will place an electromagnetic coil over the head, near the area they want to target. Short electromagnetic pulses are then produced and passed through the coil into the skill where they stimulate the nerve cells in the targeted area of the brain.

In repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), the pulse generated does not reach more than two inches into the brain, this means that medical professionals are able to accurately select certain areas of the brain. The magnetic fields that are used are of similar strength to those produced by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation

Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation targets larger areas of the brain and sends magnetic pulses around 4cm into the brain which activates brain cells and neurons that are deeper. In a dTMS session, individuals wear a particular helmet that produces magnetic fields. These sessions will typically last for around 20 minutes every day for around four to six weeks.

Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation stimulates neurons in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, especially the left side, as it is often found to be associated with anxious depression.

How Does TMS Treat Anxiety?

How Does TMS Treat Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder trigger hyperactivity in the amygdala. The amygdala plays a primary role in our emotional behavior and emotional responses. If you have an anxiety disorder, a hyperactive amygdala will cause intense and excessive stress or worry. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy for anxiety works by reducing neurons in this area to a normal level.

TMS was approved by the FDA for treating anxiety symptoms in individuals diagnosed with depression and has advantages over other forms of treatment, such as no recovery period, no side effects, and proven efficacy for patients who have not had success with other treatment methods.

Though research is slightly limited for the treatment of anxiety, medical professionals have noted immense success in using TMS therapy for anxiety. As anxiety is associated with increased activity in the prefrontal cortex and TMS has been found to reduce activity in this area.

Effectiveness of TMS

Studies have shown the effectiveness of TMS in treating individuals diagnosed with 'anxious depression. The randomized controlled study compared deep TMS to sham stimulation and found a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms.

The success rate for TMS in treating depression is extremely promising, with a success rate between 70-80%, meaning that the majority of those who have undergone the treatment found a significant risk in their depression symptoms.

Side Effects of TMS

Side effects related to TMS are very uncommon. One of the primary side effects that are reported is the temporary discomfort experienced during the session. Other side effects that may be experienced include:

  • Headaches
  • Scalp irritation
  • Facial twitching
  • Neck pain
  • Tingling

Research has found that the majority of the side effects associated with TMS are only mild to moderate.

Can TMS Make Anxiety Worse?

Anxiety is not noted as a side effect of TMS treatment and there is no concrete evidence that TMS makes anxiety worse. It is a non-invasive procedure that can be easily included in an individual's daily schedule.

Alternative Treatment Options for Anxiety

Alternative Treatment Options for Anxiety


There are a number of forms of talk therapy that have been proven to be effective treatments for anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used treatment for anxiety disorders. It focuses on teaching individuals certain skills for identifying and changing negative thought patterns associated with their anxiety disorder.


There are several types of medication that have been found to be effective in relieving symptoms related to anxiety. The most commonly prescribed medications are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Medications are usually prescribed alongside psychotherapy.

TMS Treatment at GIA Chicago

At GIA Chicago we offer evidence-based and up-to-date therapies and treatments that are tailored to your individual needs. We utilize these techniques to promote and enhance the well-being of all of our clients.

We are extremely experienced in treating a variety of mental health issues, such as depression, OCD, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. We understand that anxiety affects many individuals and have developed a treatment program that allows you to break free from your anxiety disorder.

We offer treatment on an outpatient approach, allowing you to continue your daily responsibilities while working on maintaining a happy and healthy lifestyle. For more information on how we can help you with your anxiety disorder, contact us today to discuss treatment options.

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