Metropolitan Digital

The Conversation

  • Written by Laurel Mellin, Associate Clinical Professor of Family & Community Medicine and Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco
A neuroscience-based action plan to deal with stress after El Paso and Dayton shootings

After the mass murders in El Paso and Dayton, discussions about improving mental health and strengthening gun control laws may be comforting.

Neither affords a plan, however, to address the stress that comes with these events to the ordinary person. We live in a violent society, with the U.S. rate of deaths from gun violence[1] four times higher than the rates in war-torn countries like Syria and Yemen. The violence in our society can be exacerbated by stress,[2] and these incidents can cause a new wave of fear to spread across the country.

Updating how we see stress

From a neuroscience perspective, our response to daily stress is a function of brain circuits. Throughout life, episodes of severe stress in childhood or later in life can cause the encoding of faulty circuits[3] in the brain that amplify and prolong stress, activating the fight-or-flight response when there are no actual threats.

Once encoded, these circuits can be replayed for a lifetime. When they are activated, the neocortex[4], or the part of the brain that gives us conscious control over our responses to life essentially goes “offline.” This diminishes our capacity for personal self-control, as a part of the brain called the amygdala[5] takes charge. The more primitive part of the brain, or what some call the reptilian brain, becomes dominant, with its reflexive responses, and extremes of emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

Most of our circuits that regulate our responses to life are highly effective and self-correcting, or homeostatic. When the circuits are activated, we can shut them off by going for a walk or taking a hot bath. In contrast, the more extreme and ineffective circuits, called allostatic, have no shut-off valves. They trigger us[6] to be in stress overload and be extremely stressed, often to the point we develop health issues or cannot function well for hours or even days. When you feel overwhelmed, lost, numb, depressed or in a panic, that is usually caused by the activation of one of these toxic stress circuits.

New approaches to stress overload

As a researcher[7] who has studied stress for almost 40 years, I believe there are a number of techniques based on neuroscience[8] that can provide needed relief as we heal from the horror of these mass shootings.

A brain-based action plan to deal with our stress includes more than the typical advice of restful sleep, daily exercise, and eating healthy. When faulty circuits are activated, the neocortex functions poorly, so we cannot think our way to engaging in healthy habits. NYU researchers have shown that our traditional cognitive skills fail the stress test[9]. They are effective when stress is low, but cannot stop the activation of faulty circuits in the brain that block unhealthy behaviors when we really need them, in moments of toxic stress.

I suggest these steps to recover from highly stressful experiences based on my work:

  1. Stop pretending you are not stressed. Understand that because of how the brain works, you may not be functioning optimally. The El Paso and Dayton mass shootings may have triggered more stress overload than you might perceive.

  2. Accept responsibility for your stress. You did not encode this stress into your brain, but you are the only one who can choose to release it.

  3. Expand your repertoire of emotional skills[10]. Emotional expression[11] is faster in reducing toxic stress than cognitive methods, thus keeping the neocortex online, available for good decision-making. Also, by using emotional tools when we are stressed, we can begin to rewire circuits that cause stress overload into effective circuits that promote resilience and well-being. Researchers at NYU have shown that only in stressful times are these faulty circuits unlocked and open to rewiring and improvement[12].

  4. Share your feelings with others who will not interrupt you or give you unasked-for advice. In other words, vent to a loving relative, friend or therapist. All the while, stay present to your own feelings.

  5. Explore whether a deep emotional connection within, time for contemplation or meditation [13] can ease your stress. Distracting yourself, even by doing something healthy like exercising, may not have the same beneficial impact on the circuits that cause over-reactions as emotional connection.

  6. Use brain-based stress tools. I believe, based on my research and treatment[14] of people who have experienced trauma, that the next generation of coping techniques, or emotional brain training[15], can combat toxic stress. By using the tools to switch off the faulty circuits, the brain learns to be more resilient, so we can be wiser and more effective at taking additional needed steps to make our nation safer and better.


  1. ^ rate of deaths from gun violence (
  2. ^ exacerbated by stress, (
  3. ^ encoding of faulty circuits (
  4. ^ neocortex (
  5. ^ amygdala (
  6. ^ trigger us (
  7. ^ As a researcher (
  8. ^ neuroscience (
  9. ^ cognitive skills fail the stress test (
  10. ^ emotional skills (
  11. ^ Emotional expression (
  12. ^ unlocked and open to rewiring and improvement (
  13. ^ contemplation or meditation (
  14. ^ treatment (
  15. ^ emotional brain training (

Authors: Laurel Mellin, Associate Clinical Professor of Family & Community Medicine and Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Phish’s 2018 Fall Tour to Conclude with Four Performances at MGM Grand Garden Arena

LAS VEGAS (May 15, 2018) – Phish, the American rock band known worldwide for its dedicated fan base, recently announced a 14-date Fall tour which will conclude in Las Vegas with four performances at...

Blane Ferguson - avatar Blane Ferguson

Dave Damiani and The No Vacancy Orchestra are “Bending The Standard”

Tina Sinatra, Dave Damiani & Landau Murphy Jr. celebrate 100 years of Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles There have been stories about independent filmmakers, but how about the independent big band...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

Billboard Chart-Topping Saxophonist VANDELL ANDREW Returns With New Single

From the vantage point of 30, his age and the name of his infectious, sensually grooving new full length album, Vandell continues to be fueled by the impressive roar of accolades and achievements th...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

Metropolitan Business News

Office Cleaner Takes Ownership of the Neglected Dishwasher

In an office that a dishwasher is being used communally, it is pretty difficult to set rules on how a certain appliance needs to be taken cared of. A dishwasher is a responsibility of no one until you...

News Company - avatar News Company

Amazing tips to become a successful trader

Everyone is working very hard to secure their financial freedom. Most of the people find it hard to support their family even after having a 9-5 day job. For this very reason, people often look for ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Best Practice For Young Professionals Working Through HR Internships

The industry of human relations is vitally important to the health and prosperity of a business.   Whether they are operating in textile manufacturing, accounting, sports, IT development or hospit...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Easy Steps To Gaining SEO Momentum For Your Business

SEO (search engine optimisation) does not have to be a tiresome and overbearing exercise that diverts attention away from the core functions of a business.   SEO Shark affirms this as a smart and ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How to Manage An SEO Project On Limited Funds

SEO operators don’t need thousands upon thousands of dollars to become successful.   What SEO practitioners needs more than ever is the skills and diligence to identify problems that are acting a...

News Company - avatar News Company

An Introduction To Coworking For Australian Business Owners

Advancing technology is bringing with it great advantages in communications and networking, and to survive in business you need to keep up. With the rate at which everything changes these days, that...

News Company - avatar News Company


New Baggage Regulations to Help Aussie Parents Travel with Infants

Travelling around the globe has never been easy, especially when infants tag along for the trip. One of the main issues that parents often have to deal with is the need to bring extra item...

News Company - avatar News Company

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt


SKYN®, Australia’s best-selling condom*, today launches its very first SKYN® Places of Intimacy Guide.   Curated in partnership with GQ Magazine and Conde Nast, the Guide features 30 lux...

SKYN - avatar SKYN