In her book, Wired for Joy, Laurel Mellin describes the Emotional Brain Training program (EBT) for combating stress, a program that draws on neuroplasticity for rewiring the circuits in our brain that trigger stress.
In EBT, we have a description of five brain states in relation to five areas of function. Over the course of a day, we can identify at any moment which brain state we are in. At 1, we are thinking clearly. We are aware of our own thoughts, able to use perspective in making decisions, and able to relate empathically with others. We have a general feeling of calm even when we’re dealing with stress. We engage in healthy living without over-eating, over-indulging, or abusing our body.
Brain states 3 to 5 reflect varying levels of stress from mild (3) to severe (5). For example, in the area of cognitive functioning, our thinking progresses from being more concrete and rigid (3) to being more obsessive (4) to being irrational (5).
In Brain State 1, we are at our best in each area of function: Thinking, Feelings, Relationships, Spirituality, and Behavior. Between feeling most joyful (Brain State 1) or experiencing some level of stress (Brain States 3, 4, or 5), we may be generally well-balanced (Brain State 2). In Brain State 2, we’re able to think rationally, but our perspective is not as broad. We’re not preoccupied with negative feelings, but we’re not as happy either. We enjoy others but may be a little guarded.
The EBT program includes many interventions that are helpful for reducing stress and increasing joy which are specific to each brain state. We may be able to create a moment of joy irrespective of which brain state we’re in by holding our head up, putting our chest out, smiling, and calling to mind an act of kindness. Our posture signals that we’re safe. And thoughts and acts of kindness release oxytocin, a hormone which boosts our happiness and well-being.
It’s also helpful to check in with ourselves many times across the day: In which Brain State am I now? 1? 3? 4? When we check in with ourselves, we’re exercising perspective. And when we hold onto our perspective, we help to protect our access to Brain State 1.
EBT is one of the programs I use in my work with folks who like to be number 1!