Hi, I’m Mark and for a long time I have suffered from anxiety. I think I’ve had it as long as I can remember. Like any mental illness it seems to find a million different ways to get in the way of life. Medication, therapy and lots of exercise have helped to manage the symptoms, but every day you have to wake up, take a deep breath, and fight that battle. I was excited then to learn about the ‘Alpha-Stim’, a new device that uses small currents of electricity to treat, amongst other things, anxiety.
I attend Stockport Mind’s Rendézvous group every Wednesday morning and it was there that I met Tim and Jack from the BBC. They were making a podcast about new ways to treat mental illness and were asking people there if they were willing to try out the Alpha-Stim for a little while and discuss the results on the show. Of course I was very interested but I wasn’t going to approach two strangers in a million years, so a big shout out to Jo for introducing me to Tim! After a chat with Tim who was super nice, and also suffers from anxiety it turns out, we did a brief recorded interview and from there it was a case of waiting for it to arrive in the post.
So what is an Alpha-Stim anyway? It’s about the size of a smartphone and has a cord coming off it with a clip for each ear. It runs a small electrical current from ear to ear across the cranial nerves in the brain. The idea is that stimulating these nerves can cause them to return to normal function and in doing so alleviate some of the anxiety. To use it you apply conducting fluid to each clip, attach them to your earlobes, turn on the device and away you go. Depending on how high you set the current you use it for 20-60 minutes a day and the manufacturers reckon you should notice the effects after about six weeks.
I didn’t know what to expect the first time I used it. Would it hurt or make me dizzy? Could it help me? Either way I was going to be trying it lying down. When you turn it on you can feel a gentle fizzing on your earlobes, nothing uncomfortable. I noticed after a few minutes my breathing had slowed down, I felt calmer, and my head felt a little lighter. Amazingly my mind started to wander to more positive places. There was a break in the constant worrying and I was thinking of people, places and happier times. Over the coming days I tried a crossword for the first time in years. After a week I could concentrate enough to read again in short bursts. I had twenty minutes a day alone with my thoughts but they weren’t so full of worry and panic and often they were positive!
The six weeks flew by and it was time to talk to Tim about my experience. In that short time I had left the house more each day, I was sleeping much less to escape the panic and I had even gone on holiday and to a live show! I think Tim was as pleasantly surprised as I was. I suppose the important question is whether the device really works or if it is just a placebo. The answer is I really don’t know. The anxiety is very much still there as I suspect it always will be, but for me just that little bit of relief has given me a chance to rethink what my limits are. If it’s all just in my head it doesn’t matter because that’s where the anxiety comes from anyway.
A big thank you to Jo, Tim, Jack and Steve and everyone from Stockport Mind, The BBC, and The Microcurrent Site for this amazing opportunity. If you are interested in listening to the podcast it is called All Hail Kale – Zap Your Mood Better on the BBC Sounds app.
This article is not an endorsement of the Alpha-Stim technology by Stockport Mind, and rather we are just delighted to share Mark’s story about something that had a very positive impact on his life.