Do you want to know if you have a resilient brain, or if anybody else has? This has been difficult to predict with some people seemingly taking stressful and potentially traumatic experiences in their stride, and others falling to anxiety, distress, and more severe symptoms such as burnout.
Well, it may be simpler than many have assumed according to particularly impressive recent research out of the University of Zurich (Grueschow et al.) and published in nature.
The researchers collected brain scan (fMRI) and pupillometry data of medical interns on an emotional-conflict task before they went though a stressful emergency room internship.
What did they find?
A region deep in the brain known as the locus coeruleus was strongly correlated with anxiety responses and subsequent stress including depressive symptoms post internship. The locus coeruleus has also been recently shown to be strongly associated to attention and conflict monitoring.
Locus Coeruleus responsivity is a robust and reliable biomarker for stress resilience
But more interesting to us is that pupil dilation is strongly associated with locus coeruleus sensitivity and this may be an easy and accessible way to measure if we are stress resilient or not!
So in short stress resilience has a natural biomarker and is controlled by a region in the brain and we all have different sensitivity levels and hence different natural resilience — can this be trained? Yes, it can, to a degree. The researchers mention stress-resilience training with neurofeedback (but according to the function of the locus coeruleus, attention and conflict monitoring exercises are likely to be best).
Real-world stress resilience is associated with the responsivity of the locus coeruleus
Individuals may show different responses to stressful events. Here, we investigate the neurobiological basis of stress…
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Andy is author of leading brains Review a monthly e-magazine on all things the brain, behaviour, and business