Switching Off Stress Chemicals Helps Overcome Emotional Health Issues: Study
Tue, April 20, 2021

Switching Off Stress Chemicals Helps Overcome Emotional Health Issues: Study

People can overcome their emotional health issues by switching off the stress chemicals and activating the healing chemicals. / Photo by: Antonio Guillem via 123rf

 

Emotional health is an important part of a person’s overall wellbeing. Emotionally healthy people are in control of their behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. They can keep their problems in perspective, cope with challenges in life, and able to bounce back from difficulties or setbacks. It does not mean that emotionally healthy people are happy all the time. They are just aware of their emotions and knows how to manage if it is a negative emotion, says the American Academy of Family Physicians’ platform Family Doctor.

The New Approach to Healing

There is a new emotional health strategy introduced by Laurel Mellin Ph.D., who is also an associate clinical professor at UC San Francisco. She believes that people can overcome their emotional health issues by switching off the stress chemicals and activating the healing chemicals. 

Good stress helps people accomplish tasks more efficiently, produces the fight-or-flight response warning system in the body, and trains the brain for resilience. However, it can become bad if the body experiences too much of it. Later stressful or traumatic experiences and adverse childhood events, for instance, can make the brain reactive to stress. This means that a little bit of stress already causes an increase in stress reactivity. Naturally, health problems in the body will follow. 

Mellin says that people can plan their recovery based on brain circuitry. “We are always running in brain circuits,” she explains. When a stimulus arrives in the brain, the circuits will instruct us what to expect, how to respond, or how to feel. The strongest circuit will win and the embedded instructions on the said brain circuit will cause the electrical and chemical response to happen without the body’s permission and awareness.

The two kinds of brain circuits that respond to daily stressors are reactive and resilient circuits. The reactive circuits are those that activate the stress circuits, causing people to be out of control. The resilient circuits, on the other hand, moves people to wellbeing. They maintain the executive function of the brain while the reactive circuits cause the brain region called the prefrontal cortex to go offline. When that happens, the body is controlled by the ineffective instructions of the circuit.

How to Switch Off the Reactive Circuits

The Associate Clinical Professor adds that people can overcome emotional health issues based on their brain circuitry. Although psychotherapy and medications are often helpful to achieve this, the mental healing may not be done rapidly. So, Mellin and her colleagues developed the emotional tools to switch off the reactive circuits in the brain and this can be used to treat and prevent behavioral and emotional health problems. 

The process begins by having a moment of mindful awareness, then the emotional processing. They also learned that a short internal expression of anger can help quickly switch off the stress and keep the brain’s executive function online again. The moment it is accomplished, the feelings will just flow and in about two to four minutes, stress will subside. This will then be followed by a flow of positive emotions. They have also created an emotional brain training app called Brain-Based Health by EBT for users to download.

The same technique was used in the study that previously appeared in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The participants in that UCSF study showed positive effects that persisted during the two-year, follow-up period. The result showed that 86 percent of the participants reported coping better with stress related to their work, 77 percent improved their weight, 69 percent had decreased blood pressure, 99 percent had improved happiness level and mood, and 90 percent used harmful substances less.

Mellin concludes that psychotherapy will soon become more brain-based as it is the brain that causes stress resilience or stress reactivity after all.

 

The brain is the one that causes stress resilience or stress reactivity. / Photo by: Ion Chiosea via 123rf

 

Ways to Improve Good Emotional Health

The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests ways to improve or maintain having good emotional health. It includes (1) being aware of your reactions and emotions and try to address or change if it makes you angry, sad, or frustrated; (2) express your feelings in appropriate ways; (3) manage stress or learn relaxation methods such as exercise, meditation, and deep breathing; (4) think before you act as emotions can be powerful; (5) find a healthy balance between work and play and between rest and activity; (6) find meaning and purpose in life; (7) connect with other people because we all are social creatures; (8) stay positive by focusing on the good things in life as well as forgiving yourself if you made mistakes and others too; (9) spend time with positive and emotionally healthy people.

There are many reasons why some people are unable to address their mental health needs. For example, emotional and mental issues in some societies are seen as less legitimate compared to physical issues and regarded as a sign of weakness. This is far from the truth, of course, and it is up to us to develop mental and emotional strength as well.