Brandon Tsay was working in his family’s ballroom dance studio, which would be closing for the day shortly, when an armed man entered the lobby and threatened to shoot everyone there. Brandon froze. He thought he was going to die right then, but as the gunman’s attention turned away from him for a moment, he had a flash of insight: while the man was preparing his weapon, Brandon realized he had a split second to reach the gunman — which is exactly what he did. Acting on impulse and shoving back his fear, he lunged at the gunman and grabbed the weapon. He struggled with the gunman and succeeded in prying the gun from his hand. He then pointed the gun at the man and yelled at him to leave or he would shoot.
The gunman tried to flee, and was tackled by two other people nearby. Having seen the tide turn, those two unfroze and acted. The gunman was later arrested and charged, while Brandon was hailed as a hero. He told reporters, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to have adversity to fear when fearful events happen.”
Many stories are tragic, but sometimes a hero pops out of nowhere and saves the day. A store owner with military training, just as an apparent customer suddenly pulls a gun, performs a deft maneuver in grabbing the gunman’s arm and locking it behind his back. There have been many cases where people with legally concealed-carry guns, and the required training to use them correctly, stopped active shooters before they could inflict more carnage. In fact, most shootings occur in “gun-free zones”, where the shooters know there will be no resistance. The best police response is going to be over two minutes, and the unexpected heroes are the only defense available in the short term. But what makes a hero, when most people just freeze and cower?
As we learn more about the brain, we realize that the complex mechanisms of the brain are working in tension: the potential for opposing responses, such as freezing or taking action, is within us. Somehow we choose between them, and sometimes we have to make instantaneous decisions. The traffic light just turned yellow: should I stop, or am I too close with too much speed? The phone rang but I’m quite busy: do I drop what I’m doing to get the phone, or let it go to voicemail? There is a moment of stress while we make our decision, then life returns to normal and the stress is gone almost as fast as it arrives. Somehow we made a choice, and it’s done.
All body systems, including the brain, require balance between opposing forces. Like a tug of war, the side with the greater force wins. In the brain, there are portions which have special functions, and there are balancers to keep those functions coordinated.
With an out of balance brain, a person will be excessively and frequently angry, depressed, anxious, obsessive, compulsive, addictive, hyper or hypo active, paranoid, or exhibit other behavioral dysfunction, because certain aspects of the brain win the tug of war inappropriately.
Chronic stress means a decision which should have been made by now is still pending. Balance has not yet been achieved. If you are worried, anxious, or fearful, you know something needs to change but you can’t seem to manage a solution, even if that solution is to focus on something else so you don’t keep worrying. You are experiencing stress so long as you carry the burden. Your brain is actively trying to find a solution to relieve the stress, and without balance, the tug of war keeps pulling in an ineffective direction. The imbalance of the brain is signaled to the rest of the body, making it out of balance as well.
Temporary stress and chronic stress are thus related, differing only in duration. Researchers have studied the brain during temporary stress situations to see how portions work together to resolve the stress in hopes of better dealing with prolonged stress. Published in PNAS, researchers at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA conducted animal studies in which they intentionally unbalanced brains to see how the animals would then react under threat. One special area, known as the Periaqueductal Gray (PAG), and particularly the dorsolateral portion of the PAG, was manipulated to see the effect on threat response. This area is known to affect hypertension (high blood pressure), tachycardia (high heart rate), and analgesia (pain blocking) — all mechanisms needed to prepare the body to deal with imminent danger. The interaction of the PAG with the prefrontal cortex, which coordinates and regulates thoughts and emotions, determines reactions; when the researchers blocked this interaction, so the PAG was not influenced by the prefrontal cortex, the pain was blocked, the emotions did not rule, the animals remained in a calmer state, and the animals did not react to the threat, which was a probe that gave a mild shock when touched. When that brain interaction was reinforced, the animals aggressively responded to the probe instead of cowering, even when they were deprived of any materials with which they could use to defend themselves effectively. Interestingly, their aggression did not spike their stress hormone levels. What did, however, spike those hormones was chronic stress, where the researchers frequently left them exposed to the probe threat over a period of two weeks. The animals simply froze when the probe was introduced after a few days of stress conditioning. The researchers determined that the built-up memories of the shock probe experiences led them to freeze and stress out in future threat situations. Little or no memory of bad experiences led to better “stress resilience”, while strong memories increased fear and the freezing, passive reaction.
The prefrontal cortex takes in information and then tries to understand it. A baby has little memory to compare raw information against, so must learn what it all means, but we have past experiences, expectations, and beliefs to filter our understanding of information. The hippocampus, neocortex, and amygdala are involved in storing processed information in the form of memories. So perceived information is what is actually stored, which may or may not accurately reflect the raw data. Nonetheless, those memories shape our expectations, so when an apparent threat occurs, we may expect something bad, which elicits the fear reaction. If we constantly perceive stress, even if the perception is incorrect, we are likely to react in fear. Once action is taken and we believe the stressor to have been neutralized, we calm down even if, in reality, the threat still exists.
The unbalanced brain cannot perceive threats correctly or react to them appropriately. Even though we may want to take a good course of action to deal with the stress, our unbalanced brains fight us, and our reaction often is not effective in dealing with the stress. We find ourselves continuing patterns of inaction or overreaction, and the stress continues. We need “stress resilience”, which the researchers tied to memories that influence our threat perception. We need to go through each day with anticipation of good things and positive experiences, and then the day will not be stressful.
Brandon showed balance: he was fearful, and rightfully so, but he was able to overcome the fear when his opportunity arose. His response saved his life and the lives of many others.
No “do-overs” in life
The brain and body builds on the past. As past experiences shape our current thinking, and past physical environment shapes our current body structure, we are always moving forward from this point. Our brains are “plastic”, meaning that they adjust to the current situation, but always are building on past adjustments. If your brain is imbalanced, as it was shaped by previous experiences, especially early in life — the only path is forward, using the brain plasticity to move back towards balance. We don’t roll back the clock, but we change trajectory.
As published in Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks), researchers from the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY reviewed existing medical data to condense what is known about the affects of chronic stress on brain development. Brain imbalance “affects systemic physiology via neuroendocrine, autonomic, immune and metabolic mediators.” Brain imbalances affect the entire body. And they make this key statement: “Moreover, adverse early life experience, interacting with alleles of certain genes, produces lasting effects on brain and body via epigenetic mechanisms.” They conclude that behavioral therapies can be effective because of the plasticity of the brain.
Your individual cells are adaptive, and the combination of those cells into the organism that is “you” is highly adaptive in complex ways. You can’t adjust all those mechanisms with drugs, but you can introduce positive factors that utilize that adaptability going forward. No matter where you are in life, you can shift to a more positive trajectory. And that requires balance.
Dr. Nemec’s Review
Let’s see what the research showed.
- Periaqueductal gray (PAG) is the area in the brain that is able to block pain when activated. Too much pain is always debilitating and overwhelming to the entire system. If we can block or reduce pain, we can move much more effectively — the PAG area in the brain is vital for many functions, but notably in this research, it has the ability to block pain. What types of pain are there? There is the physical pain. There is also mental-emotional pain. So you can see the power of an area of the brain that has the ability to block pain of all types.
- In the University of Iowa study, when the animals were conditioned for stress, they secreted stress hormones when they were re-exposed to a stressful circumstance; whereas the animals that were stress resilient, when they were exposed to stress, did not produce the stress hormone cortisol. This is because they either came up with a solution to the stress in the past and are working from those memories, or their brains in the PAG pathway block the perceived pain sufficiently to not react.
One of the most beautiful messages in this research is that the brain and the body are plastic. This means they are moldable, changeable, and adaptable to go with the flow and adapt to the best response in the present moment. This means we’re not stuck in the past, not stuck with past memories, past perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes. We can change how we think which in turn changes how our brain functions.
Wise words from the Master: you must be like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. What’s so special about little children? They live fully in the moment: they do not dwell on the past because they don’t have much of a past. They don’t spend time in the future because their consciousness hasn’t developed fully — in that place they spend most all of their time in the moment, living life to the full, which we call playing.
The more memories of the past that we carry with us and choose to hold onto, the more we will paralyze our life. This is seen with animals in the freeze response, but most people are doing this every day: they’re frozen in the past memories, past hurts and pains, and replaying old programs over and over again that are stored in the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex.
But there is another way, a better way, a much higher way: to think on what is true, what is right what is pure, what is from unconditional love. We are told to think about these things instead of our past or our future, to think on who we truly are in the present moment, and our true identity.
The Rockefeller University research also stated some vital truths about how in the brain affects the body.
The research can be summed up by stating the brain controls cellular physiology through signaling molecules and the autonomic nervous system. The researchers go on to state that early life experiences actually cause epigenetic changes in the genes. This means past memories actually change gene function, which then changes cellular function. Now if you stop the story here you would get pretty depressed, but as we stated in the beginning: your brain, your nervous system, every cell in your body is plastic, meaning it adapts and changes to the present environment, not the past alone. So the past made a certain impression in the brain and the genes, and if we live in the past, we will live with the same brain imbalances, signaling imbalance to all the cells in the body, and we will live with the same genetic pattern caused by those stressors. But we can choose another way: we can choose to live life fully in the moment, making the environment in that moment to be one that is thinking on the truth, unconditional love, and on our true identity; and if we do this, the brain will mold or follow and reinforce our new thoughts, and our genes will be epigenetically changed once again to follow our present thought patterns. This is so powerful. This is stating that we are new every moment, and we can choose what to think on in that moment.
The research ends by saying therapies can help release these old programs.
This is what we have developed at Revolution New Medicine over the last 40 years: an objective testing method and treatment protocol to release both subconscious and conscious stress programs, and a retraining program of how to live fully in the moment. This is called freedom, it’s also called living life to the full, which always produces healing and health.
Here are the ways we can help you in your health journey:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.