The Brain Based Health Movement

Welcome to a new world in which we use our brain in surprising ways that bring us a new level of power to experience optimal well-being. I’m a health psychologist, and with my collaborators who are neuroscientists and physiologists, we have launched a movement to equip individuals in the United States with a set of simple tools that has the potential to change their own health, and the health of our nation.

It's time. All that you see around you with the chronic stress, daily triggering, and reactivity, the stonewalling, the overmedicating, and confusion about how to move forward are killing our spirits as well as sapping the energy we need to save the planet, promote a peaceful world, and enjoy the natural pleasure of life!

We need something big – a paradigm shift – and neuroscience has given us all we need to begin that new approach, including another paradigm shift, to inspire us. The experience of a significant breakthrough – a "golden age" – has happened once before. The first golden age of healthcare occurred about 100 years ago, when millions were dying of infectious diseases, and fantastic progress was made in a short period. This can be repeated. However, this time, we have astonishing breakthroughs in neuroscience to guide our way.

The Problem: Bacteria

Perhaps we can repeat or even exceed the impact of Louis Pasteur. In 1862, he proved germ theory, finding the modifiable root cause of infectious diseases, which was bacteria. This launched the first golden age of healthcare, in which leading scientists used their knowledge and creative urges to identify diverse and highly effective ways to kill germs. This included sterilization techniques, vaccinations, and antibiotics.

A vast reduction in disease and deaths rapidly followed.

The Solution: Antibiotics

As death from infectious diseases decreased, a new wave of chronic diseases followed. These diseases did not appear to have a modifiable root cause, the way that germ-caused diseases did. What followed for the next 100 years was medical sciences focusing on diagnosing problems, relieving symptoms, and discovering disease-specific treatments. We did the best we could and addressed many serious issues.

However, something was missing. There was another modifiable root cause of these conditions and diseases which kept our healthcare treatments from optimizing their effectiveness. What's more, we were very excited about medical advances, with each new medication tapping into our hope for a magic pill that would save us from pain, suffering, and death.

At first, these medical advances seemed to be small miracles, but with each "mini-miracle," we saw their limitations. We would solve one problem, then somehow another one would come our way. With each advancement in medical care there is joy, but along with it the list of side-effects, limited effectiveness, and, well . . . a sense that something was missing began to grow among many of us.

Then in the 1990s, the bubble finally burst. American health and happiness began deteriorating. That downturn has continued. Not only was there a growing sense of discomfort, negativity, insecurity, and angst, but there weren't enough medications to make us feel genuinely comforted, pleasured, loved, and secure.

Presently, 45 percent of Americans have at least one chronic disease. Nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, and 35 percent of all adults have metabolic syndrome (a combination of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and poor lipid profiles). Mental illness and substance abuse affect 20 percent of Americans, and deaths by suicide have increased by about 30 percent since 1999. Despite spending double what other wealthy countries pay per person on healthcare, including the highest per-capita pharmaceutical expense in the world, the U.S. currently ranks last in life expectancy among the 12 wealthiest industrialized nations.

A new paradigm is calling to us The paradigm shift was to use our own brain in the way that evolutionary biology intended – to be immensely adaptable and learn how to move through stress and feel immensely rewarded, moment by moment in daily life.

The Problem: Stress Circuits

What blocks us from that state of optimal well-being and resilience? The block is a particular kind of brain circuit that, without our permission or awareness, activates stress reactivity ("getting triggered"), chronic stress ("feeling bad"), and overwhelm ("difficulty moving forward"). These circuits activate cortisol, "public health enemy #1," and they are our new "germ." The problems we face are stress diseases, and these stress circuits are stored in the emotional brain ("the unconscious mind") and to take charge of them we need a set of emotional techniques.

The stress of modern life is getting ahead of us, encoding and strengthening these stress circuits in our unconscious mind. All of us have some of these circuits. The problem is that they are a lot more toxic that we might imagine. When the stress of daily life enters the brain and activates these circuits, the “stuff” hits the fan. The downstream effect of physiologic stress and the inflammation it causes triggers chaos and problems in every domain of life: emotional, behavioral, relational, and health.

How perfect! Instead of chasing down, analyzing, diagnosing, and treating the entire array of discomforts and problems, with advances in neuroscience, specifically emotional plasticity and stress physiology, we can learn simple techniques to be very practical. We can shut off the wires. If a wire really bothers us, we can use the same tools to break apart that wire and begin to encode a new wire that makes us happier and healthier. In essence, instead of the "fan" creating chaos that we have to mop up, we reach around and shut off the fan. We cut off the power of stress to damage our health, as physiologic stress is the root cause of 90 percent of health problems.

Brain-based health is surprisingly simple. To use our natural ability to take charge of our responses to life, we use a simple system that I started developing more than 30 years ago. We improved the system dramatically in 2007 and fine-tuned it during the last decade. The approach to using the system is "easy does it." You play with the tools and experiment with checking in and identifying your level of stress. Then, instead of asking yourself “why” you are stressed, you laugh and say, “Oh, it’s just one of those wires!” Then you use one of the techniques, and in a few minutes, you find that you have switched off that wire. You feel much better. This can be surprising at first, so trying out the tools is a wonderful time of discovery!

We only need five tools to take charge of our stress. Using them deactivates circuits that cause surges of harmful chemicals (“Stress Circuits” or allostatic circuits) and activates circuits that promote surges of healing chemicals (“Joy Circuits” or homeostatic circuits). Daily life becomes a game of dancing circuits, shutting off unwanted ones and activating circuits that enable you to feel better regardless of the circumstance.

The Solution: Joy Circuits

Brain-based health will likely become dominant in modern medicine. Our orchestrating the release of natural healing chemicals is central to preventing and treating the common health problems we face, including the three major killers of adults – cancer, diabetes, and heart disease – as well as emotional and behavioral problems. However, the transition to the new paradigm of self-directed control of our stress response will probably be a bumpy road.

The healthcare system is based on the old paradigm of treating specific problems without the benefit of addressing their root cause, so changes will be needed. Although brain-based health makes perfect sense, adopting it will take a village of individuals, scientists, and clinicians, as the wiring in our own brains is based on pre-neuroscience traditions. We hope you will join us in making that transition and inspiring others to do so, too.

We will all learn together how to see our health differently. Most of us have come to believe that the emotional brain, where these stress wires are stored, is owned by psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and pharmaceuticals. Actually, we own them! We can still go to a therapist and do great work, but when we walk out of the office, we need these tools to keep us from backsliding when we get triggered. Also, most of us don't want to see a therapist and for many problems, using the tools, with peers or solo, can solve problems before we have had to receive diagnoses and taken the time to delve into deep issues. We do that for ourselves with these tools.

When are medications and other procedures needed? When the brain is stuck in a full-blown stress response, we require that external support, as well as anytime we desire for preventive care.

To make the United States a nation of resilient, innovative, kind-hearted, and purpose-driven people, we need to use the brain for our highest and best use. Instead of letting technology and the media rule us, we can rule ourselves. We can learn how to filter out the noise of stress and connect with the deepest part of ourselves. We can embrace the best of both worlds – activating the private storehouse of energy from self-reliance while remaining sensitive to the views of others and the value of empathic community.

At the beginning of a golden age We need the tools to do that. At EBT, we aim to deliver more than a method. It's time to spark a movement. We invite you to share in what we have already discovered, all of which reflects the body of brain science from the last 50 years, and explore the beauty and perfection of your own emotional brain to make your world and the world a better place.

What can you do? Try out the tools. Experiment with them. See how they work for you. Read more about the science of the method and share the idea of brain-based health, using our own brain to shut off the circuits that create chaos, division, and problems and activate the wires in which we are the solution, each of us. Nobody is left out!

Thank you for visiting our site, and I hope you will explore the brain-based health movement, and take the next step: try out the tools!

Selected References

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Laraia, B.A., Adler, N.A., Coleman-Phox, K., Vieten, C.; Mellin, L, Kristeller, J.L., Thomas, M., Stotland, N., Lustig, R.H., Dallman, M.F., Hecht, F.M., Bush, N., DeGroat, C.L., & Epel, E.S. Novel Interventions to reduce stress and overeating in overweight pregnant women: A feasibility study. Manuscript submitted to the Maternal and Child Health Journal.

Laraia, B.A., Adler, N.A., Coleman-Phox, K., Vieten, C.; Mellin, L, Kristeller, J.L., Thomas, M., Stotland, N., Lustig, R.H., Dallman, M.F., Hecht, F.M., Bush, N., DeGroat, C.L., & Epel, E.S. Novel Interventions to reduce stress and overeating in overweight pregnant women: A feasibility study. Manuscript submitted to the Maternal and Child Health Journal.

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Webber, K.H., Mellin, L., Barry-Greb, T., Vaught. J., Greene, B. A stress management- based approach to weight loss produces changes in weight, blood pressure, and perceived stress. International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Annual Conference, San Diego, CA, poster (2014).

Webber, K.H., Casey, E.M., Mayes, L., Katsumata, Y., & Mellin, L. A comparison of a behavioral weight loss program to a stress management program: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Nutrition Journal, accepted for publication (2015).