Emotional Brain Training

Stress relief tactics may restore balance.

Theresa GarneroBy Theresa Garnero, APRN, BC-ADM, MSN, CDE

Who isn't emotionally drained by diabetes or by living in today's society?

Every minute of every day has the potential to be overridden with thoughts and emotions about one's diabetes health, self-care behaviors, and/or just plain old stress.

Are you struggling to find stress relief and balance in the midst of it all? Emotional brain training (EBT) is a scientific solution to stress developed by Laurel Mellin, a renowned dietitian and certified diabetes educator. I often wonder how each person finds peace with self-care extremes without having tools to get there: between eating right and unconsciously overeating; giving thought to exercise or not being physically active at all; or deciding to stay in or move away from stress and unhealthy relationships. Mellin has articulated the neuroscience behind how to engage the brain to turn these dichotomous extremes into finding balance and yes, joy.

The premise of EBT is that everyone has the ability to become unstuck from a stress state and move towards a joy-based state. How? Through rewiring our brains by staying present and in touch with current levels of stress, accepting it, and applying simple steps throughout the day to alter the course of how we typically respond to situations.

Mellin explains that given our current levels of stress (and with diabetes, the myriad of minutia adding significantly to that stress), the reward circuits in the brain cannot open up natural pleasures. Instead, when the brain goes to extremes, it forms unhealthy attachments to various emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and even relationships that have an addictive quality. In an overstressed state, people often seek stress relief via external solutions that quell the internal imbalance. If one can't get soothed inside, then look elsewhere; create circuits of attachment to unbalanced states such as non-stop thinking, being forgetful, depression, compulsive eating, not exercising, smoking, and, in extremes, taking drugs. That's a state that feels safer than being present or dealing with the stress at hand.

The key is to learn how to process emotions effectively. The brain can't be in stress and joy at the same time. The brain demands joy anyway it can as it is wired for joy. If you don't give it joy, the brain will get artificially perceived — albeit short-lived — joy through sugary snacks or other methods. By using the 5 brain states Mellin has identified and getting ongoing support, the brain circuits that favor stress begin to weaken. Through everyday application and training, the brain's reward centers are activated.

Through her online and in-person courses (www.ebt.org), Mellin provides tools to access one of the universal rewards: sanctuary, authenticity, vibrancy, integrity, intimacy, and spirituality. The premise is that joy is optional. If you give your brain joy by acknowledging and accepting its stress state; asking what you feel (tired, angry, tense, lonely, afraid, relaxed, secure, etc.); what is it that you really need (sleep, food, water, a deep breath, a stretch, a walk, to talk to a friend); and listening to your inner voice for the answer, then you have the power to move from stress to joy. This is an oversimplification of a stress-relief process that requires learning and applying a new skill: deciding to create joy in your life, checking in with yourself upon awakening, before meals, and at bedtime, doing 10 minutes of meditation and 30 minutes of exercise daily, and checking in regularly with your support person.

The results are significant:

  • Feeling great
  • No more obsessive cravings for junk food
  • Longing to get out and walk
  • Weight loss
  • Meaningful relationships
  • Less anxiety
  • Better health

The key was there all along. Thanks to Ms. Mellin for helping point out where to find it and how to use it.

When we can be present for ourselves, we can find stress relief. We can meet our emotional needs, better cope with the curve balls that diabetes and the world throw regularly, and enjoy a state of balance — even joy — despite surrounding chaos.

(The author wishes to point out that Laurel Mellin has no idea about this article. This came about while researching her work for an upcoming support group. What a nice surprise!)

Read Theresa’s bio here.

Read more of Theresa Garnero's columns.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

Last Modified Date: November 28, 2012

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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