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Laurel Mellin, PhD

Laurel Mellin Laurel Mellin
Longevity By Nature

Laurel Mellin, PhD is an associate clinical professor emeritus of family and community medicine and pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine and the founder of Emotional Brain Training (EBT). She is a health psychologist and her primary expertise is in preventing and treating stress-induced problems, including mental health problems, obesity, addiction and diabetes for both children and adults.

She initially developed EBT to treat childhood and adult obesity and later expanded the program based on emerging brain science to train the brain for resilience and address the underlying cause of health problems—stress overload. Dr. Mellin is the author of eight books and is a New York Times best-selling author. Her most recent book is The Stress Solution.

Dr. Mellin lectures extensively to health professionals and self-help groups and has appeared on Oprah, Today, Good Morning America, and the CBS Evening News. Her work has been featured in Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Health, Shape and U.S. News & World Report.

Q: What inspired you to write The Stress Solution?

A: The pandemic led to 70 percent of Americans in moderate to severe distress. Cognitive methods can’t overcome those stress levels and more people wanted to learn the simplest form of EBT, something that worked in a couple of minutes and reliably to switch off that stress overload. EBT is also used as neuroscience-based self-therapy, but my husband said, “People get 80 percent of the benefit with that one tool. Why not write a book on that one technique?”

Q: How does stress affect the rest of the body?

A: Stress is the elephant in the living room of health care. Most public health and medical problems are symptoms of not having EBT to switch off stress overload. Think of stress as taxing the body and brain and whatever our vulnerability, a symptom will evolve, such as diabetes, obesity, anxiety and up to 90 percent of health problems. If the U.S. could do one thing to make all the treatments more effective, it would be to equip people with the EBT tools to clear toxic stress from their body and brain throughout the day. Emotional processing is fast, and with EBT, you can use awareness of sensations to guide the way. No need to get “all emotional” during your workday, as by processing sensations you can still get a tingle in your body, a glow of a return to homeostasis and well-being. Basically, stress overload is physiologic and suboptimal physiology increases the risk of most health problems.

Q: What is Emotional Brain Training (EBT)?

A: It’s a new paradigm in health care, a new approach. It’s not CBT, mindfulness or health education. The brain does not separate thoughts, emotions and behaviors, as they are all part of a brain circuit that is activated without our awareness or knowledge. It’s reflexive. We have two kinds of circuits: reactive and resilient. The reactive circuits have no shut-off valves and thoughts do not switch them off. Changing behaviors is really hard when they are firing because the executive functioning is compromised and the reactive circuits unleash biochemicals that drive maladaptive behaviors. EBT offers a simple, structured set of tools that switches off reactive wires and activates resilient ones. Thoughts, emotions and behaviors change spontaneously as the stress and inflammation cascade quiets down. The process gives us more direct control over our physiology and quality of life. People start using it with an app and often continue with the one-year program to raise the brain’s set point.

Q: How are we impacted by our brain state?

A: All areas of life are impacted by our brain state because it is physiologic. We use five brain states in EBT, as there are only five different emotional resilience pathways, so that gives us a complete set of tools in overcoming stress and activating positive states. I like to think of myself as having five different people inside, as like everyone else, when in each state I am biochemically different. Also, due to state-specific memory, I activate vastly different memories and circuits. When I’m at the low stress, high neural integration brain state of one, happy memories of my children playing, beautiful sunsets and loving moments. If I am in stress overload, the reactive wires convince me that it’s a rainy day no matter what the weather and I remember the more challenging moments in relationships. As emotions, thoughts, behaviors, sensations and health are physiologically based, life at one is very different from life at the high stress, reactive states. It can be someone disorienting the first time a person “spirals up” by using the method. The most common comment is, “What just happened? My mindset—and the world—seem so different.”

Q: Please explain the seven rewards of purpose. How do they relate to stress relief?

A: The method is app-based and the first minute or two of using it focuses on clearing stress and the last one on changing behavior. The person creates a reasonable expectation of how they will go forward and the process culminates in identifying their “why,” the higher-order reward that gives them a dopamine and endorphin surge, so they have the energy and optimism to follow through. This way being rewarded for a higher purpose guides the way and boosts mood and passion. The rewards are Sanctuary, which is finding a safe place within, a place of peace and power. The next is Authenticity, being genuine, Vibrancy, healthy with a zest for life and Integrity, that body feeling of knowing you are doing the right thing. The first four rewards amount to intimacy with ourselves. The last three are high states of connection, Intimacy, Spirituality and Freedom. Using EBT throughout the day keeps us getting past the stress of the day and finding our way back to purpose.

Q: COVID-19 has caused many health care practitioners and their patients to be more stressed than normal. What advice can you offer them?

A: My advice is to have compassion for yourself and vow to not judge, as cortisol is the judgment chemical and stress hormone surges are part of life. We are all pretty extreme in the stressed states. The second is to appreciate that it is not a good idea to be constantly compassionate and nice. Stress activates strong, challenging emotions and just the way it is healthy to have heart rate variability, it is healthy to have brain state variability. Allow yourself to be in all five brain states without judgment. Use EBT to silently and quietly (or loudly if you’re in the car or in the bathroom or another private place) move through the toxic emotions and clear them. You’ll not only update your brain’s resiliency pathway to strengthen it, but you will avoid the chronic stress that causes most emotional and behavioral health problems. Enjoy your emotional fluidity and use EBT as a personal practice.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: The COVID stress lives inside all of us, increasing stress load (“allostatic load”) in the body and brain, but you do not have to live with this. You cannot “think your way” out of that stress, but you can process your emotions and boost your resiliency. Your brain’s natural resilience pathways are the foundation of your health. Nobody can create them but you, because the emotional brain only changes with experience. Get from stress to joy for two minutes 10 times per day and you’ll stay ahead of your stress and find that you feel healthier and happier than ever. It’s a new day. Brain science is showing us how to stress protect ourselves for a new, more resilient world.