Applying Applied Neuroscience for stress management
Tom’s approach in his intervention was methodical, with each step specifically designed to engage different parts of the brain for effective stress management:
#1 Understanding Stress and Its Effects: Tom started by differentiating between positive and negative stress, employing Tabibnia’s model for resilience, developed by Dr. Golnaz Tabibnia. This model involves the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), essential for executive functions like planning and decision-making, and the temporal lobe, which is crucial for processing sensory input and forming memories. This helped Tom understand stress from a neurological standpoint.
#2 Reframing Stress Perception: Next, Tom worked on reframing his perception of stress as beneficial. This shift targeted the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), involved in risk and decision making, and the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which plays a role in impulse control and reward-based learning. His dlPFC aided in understanding the logic behind this reframing.
#3 Stress as a Thermostat: Tom then explored the concept of allostatic load, using a thermostat metaphor to comprehend stress regulation. This metaphor engaged the precuneus (PC), a part of the brain involved in episodic memory and self-processing, fostering a deeper understanding of how stress affects the brain.
#4 Eustress vs. Distress: Analysing the relationship between stress intensity and performance, Tom activated the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and precuneus. These brain areas are involved in memory and understanding complex associations, helping him distinguish between eustress and distress.
#5 Calibrating Emotional Responses: Focusing on altering emotional responses, Tom transitioned from amygdala-driven reactions, which are associated with emotional responses, to self-regulation mechanisms in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), both crucial for regulating emotional responses and decision-making.
#6 Developing Self-Empathy: In this phase, Tom focused on increasing activity in the vmPFC, associated with emotional regulation, while reducing responses in the amygdala, known for its role in fear and stress reactions. This process of fostering self-empathy normalised the challenge of self-directed kindness.
#7 Changing Emotion to Change Behavior: Tom learned to use body language, like smiling and power poses, to influence his emotional state, affecting activities in the amygdala (involved in processing emotions) and the vmPFC (central to processing risk and fear).
#8 Differentiating Reflection from Rumination: Breaking the cycle of rumination involved switching from the Default Mode Network (DMN) to the Cognitive Executive Network (CEN) via the salience network. This switch utilised the dlPFC, key in managing habits and executive functions.
#9 Sleep Neuroscience: Lastly, Tom delved into the neuroscience of sleep, focusing on how self-identity and normalising sleep patterns can enhance sleep quality. This part of the intervention engaged the vmPFC, dlPFC, and precuneus, all of which play roles in sleep regulation and the formation of sleep-related behaviors.