How the brain and personality provide protection from emotional stress

on 09 September 2018
I Love Jeannie

Imagine you were strolling along the beach one day and happened upon a special container and by chance, when rubbing the sand off of it (stimulating its surface) out popped a "you know what," yes a Genie. What would you do next . . . . . . . . . . . . 

When I was a young boy I remember tales of Genies and magic and children just love make-believe. In my imaginary world of dreams, I would dream big and things haven't changed that much because kids (some of them quite big ones)  are still doing that today with the Avengers, Spiderman, Superman etc. Some years later the magic of the Genie was kind of brought to life by the American actors, Larry Hagman (Tony Nelson) and Barbara Eden (Jeannie). In the series "I Dream of Jeannie," the Genie would work her magic to help and impress Tony and eventually they fell in love! Don't you just love happy endings?

Little did I know, a few decades later, that I would discover the source of real magic, our imagination, and over the past 18 years, I have become increasingly fascinated by our brain and its language, “the Mind.” And I am constantly being amazed by the Magic that comes from it and how hypnotherapy helps my clients to change the feel and course of their life. In part, some of that magic is Genie-tic but having the magic of a Genie laying deep within us only has value if you know how to use it! It's like we have a 200hp engine under the hood but that means nothing until you switch it on and even though you may then get a real feeling of that raw power rumbling away, nothing happens until you release the brakes and press on the gas pedal.  Our brain is the engine and our negative thoughts are the brakes, hypnotherapy is the gas pedal (motivation) that releases the brakes!

Anxiety really can dumb down our abilities, it affects our judgments, decisions, mood, behaviours as well as memory function, all the things you need to perform optimally. While there is evidence from this trial, that certain traits affect the way we will respond to a given situation, it is worth remembering that the mind does not come with a user manual. And as far as I am aware, there is no part of any school's curriculum that teaches you how to specifically use your mind; effectively. What I have discovered, during my i8 years as a hypnotherapist, is, if you learn to use your mind effectively, it will dramatically change your experience of life. In that context managing your mind equates to managing your life.

Does this mean you won't experience stress, anxiety or fear etc. no, of course, it doesn't, it just means that you manage them in an appropriate way. Whether we like it or not, we will all experience anxiety and/or stress during our life. However, when you manage your mind, you are more in control of the process and you learn how to modulate your emotions relative to the external signals you are receiving through your body's systems. When I say modulate our emotions, I am referring to learning how to effectively deal with perceived threats, not imaginary ones. Many of the things that people get anxious about are not real threats, they could be, mind you, but are not so in that moment. For example, every time you book a flight, you become overwhelmed with anxiety, that is not a real threat. Being on a plane during an emergency; that's real but before you even begin your journey to that airport; that's anxiety (the anticipation of danger)!

To learn how to manage your mind, you have to tune into your body because life is a feeling experience and feeling is a consequence of emotion. In some sense, we need to find a disconnect button between emotion and cognition because often we think way too much and, generally speaking, thinking is overrated. Once you have discovered the disconnect button, the next step is learning how and when to use it; hypnotherapy teaches you this!

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

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The Research: 

if you feel anxious prior to exams, take note: studies suggest that you can learn how to be resilient and manage your stress and anxiety. Researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois recently examined a sample of 85 healthy college students to see how a number of personality traits can protect an individual's brain against symptoms of emotional distress, namely depression and anxiety.

"In this study, we wanted to look at commonalities across brain regions and across personality traits that contribute to protective factors," said Matt Moore, a Beckman Institute Graduate Fellow and co-author of the study. "We targeted a number of regions in the prefrontal cortex, looking specifically at the volume of those regions using structural magnetic resonance imaging. We did a confirmatory factor analysis, which is basically a statistical approach for testing whether there is a common factor underlying the observed measurements."

The study, "Neuro-Behavioural Mechanisms of Resilience against Emotional Distress: An Integrative Brain-Personality-Symptom Approach using Structural Equation Modelling," was recently published in Personality Neuroscience.

In order to examine resiliency in young adults, previous research has looked at the relationship between specific brain regions and certain personality traits, such as optimism, positive affect, and cognitive reappraisal, all of which factor into how an individual copes with emotional challenges. "We knew from the clinical literature that there are relationships between brain volume and certain personality traits," said Sanda Dolcos, a research scientist in psychology, and one of the study's authors. "Lower brain volume in certain areas is associated with increased anxiety."

Coupled with questionnaires that identified the personality traits, the structural information of the prefrontal cortical regions provided evidence that there are common factors in brain structure and personality that can help provide adaptive behaviour in order to avoid negative emotions. "In a statistical model, we extracted these factors, one at the brain level, one at the personality level, and we found that if you have a larger volume in this set of brain regions, you had higher levels of these protective personality traits," Moore said.

The researchers are interested in identifying these brain regions along with specific personality traits in order to create ways for individuals to learn how to combat anxiety and depression. "We are interested in cognitive behavioural intervention," Dolcos said. "We have identified a resilience factor, which relates to detailed components in the prefrontal cortex, so cognitive interventions would target those brain areas."

The fact that the brain volume can change based on developing skills that might alter traits such as optimism indicates that brain training is one way to combat emotional distress. "People are not necessarily aware of how plastic the brain is," Dolcos said. "We can change the volume of the brain through experience and training. I teach brain and cognition, and students are so empowered at the end of the course because they realize that they are in charge. "It means that we can work on developing new skills, for instance, new emotion regulation strategies that have a more positive approach, and can actually impact the brain."

"This study gives us the coordinates of the brain regions that are important as well as some traits that are important," Moore said. "As the next step, we can then try and engage this plasticity at each of these levels and then train against a negative outcome."


Story Source:

Materials provided by Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew Moore, Steven Culpepper, K. Luan Phan, Timothy J. Strauman, Florin Dolcos, Sanda Dolcos. Neurobehavioral Mechanisms of Resilience Against Emotional Distress: An Integrative Brain-Personality-Symptom Approach Using Structural Equation Modeling. Personality Neuroscience, 2018; 1 DOI: 10.1017/pen.2018.11