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How To Stress-Proof The Brain

Update Date: Feb 08, 2017 07:55 AM EST

Stress can throw a person off balance. An expert on stress, brain and mindfulness revealed how to stress-proof the brain.

Melanin Greenberg, Ph.D., a practicing psychologist in Mill Valley, CA and former professor in the Ph.D. at the California School of Professional Psychology, said that stress response begins when the amygdala, a structure found in the center of the brain that is shaped like an almond, sense a threat. Neurotransmitters and hormones, like adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol, are initiated to prepare the body for fight or flight response.

However, if the brain perceives that one cannot fight the stressor, it goes into freeze response which is initiated by the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. The fight, flight, freeze response is very rapid according to Greenberg. It is helpful to survive in immediate danger, but it can also bring problem when one is dealing with interpersonal or chronic stressors.

When the amygdala conquers the brain, a person could do impulsive things in response to stressors like saying things one might regret later, drinking too much or sending an angry email. She recommends that one should know how to get back on track when a stressful situation affects the brain.

Prefrontal cortex is part of the brain that acts as the executive center. Like a CEO, it can send messages to the amygdala to switch off the fight, flight, freeze response. It can also give out messages to other parts of the brain to have a mindful and effective response to stress.

To stress-proof the brain, one needs to slow down and breathe before responding to the stress, giving enough time for the prefrontal cortex to work. Worries and fears should be turned to mindfulness to avoid being emotionally stressed.

Some people are more resilient to stress. As research shows, the way a person perceives the stressor and his ability to cope with it are more important that the event itself. 

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