Greater Flexibility in Brain Correlates with Better Stress Management

One of the keys to a happy and healthy brain is a calm, stress-free environment, in which one can thrive. It turns out that although we may not be able to avoid all stressful situations, the various ways that we cope with stress may be flexible within the brain.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the way that we cope with stress. Specifically, the research team wanted to understand why different individuals respond to stress differently, and how some people are more resilient than others when it comes to stressful situations.

Subjects included 30 healthy people who had functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans taken during a six-minute session. The subjects were split into two groups: one group viewed stressful and threatening images of violence during their session, while the second group observed neutral images of tables, chairs and other everyday objects. The researchers also asked the test groups about the different ways that they cope with stress in their day-to-day lives, including alcohol intake, eating behaviors and how often they get into arguments.

The researchers noticed that when the brain underwent stress, activation of the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VmPFC) increased, making it a key region of focus. The VmPFC is involved in emotional regulation and determining one’s own internal state, such as hunger or fear. The team found that subjects who had greater neuroflexibility in the VmPFC during stress additionally had higher coping ratings, meaning that they were less likely to be binge drinkers or generally respond to stress in an emotionally destructive way.

Simply put, the VmPFC is the area of the brain responsible for an individual’s resilience in the face of stress. Scientists are now on a path to discover how to increase brain flexibility in this region. Hopefully, there will soon be greatly expanded methods to assist individuals as they cope with stressful situations.

Taking the time to de-stress is one of our 7 tips to improve your mental health. We recommend 15 to 20 minutes of daily yoga or meditation for optimal brain health and wellbeing!