Get From Stress to Joy: A Science-Based Emotional Technique

A new emotional brain training (EBT) technique takes us from stress to joy.

Posted Oct 04, 2020

When I heard that the president and first lady were COVID positive, I thought, "They can't make this stuff up." We are being pummeled from all sides by chaos, overload, and stress. As an emotional brain researcher for the last 40 years, I know that on a biological basis, the emotional brain is perfect. It alerts us to what we most need and turns any situation into an opportunity to create joy (and healing) in our lives.

So where does this bevy of heartaches and tragedies we see in the media fit into the perfection of the emotional brain? The very same week of yet another layer of chaos, The Stress Solution was published, representing 40 years of work by my colleagues and me at the University of California, San Francisco, which integrated evidence-based practices based on neurophysiology and neuroplasticity. In this post, I'll show you what the tool is and how to use it as a way to self-regulate that clears emotions. A complete summary of the science, including all the key brain science and outcome evidence for emotional brain training (EBT), is available online. What follows are key ideas that can give people a new way to rewire their own stress response. The entire process takes two to five minutes with practice and can give us a new pathway to finding joy in troubling times. 

Minute #1: Talk About It. Basic to psychotherapy is talking about it. Brain science agrees and this EBT technique begins by talking about what bothers you, then clarifying what bothers you the most. That process activated the wires that are causing stress overload so that you can release that stress with emotional processing. Use each of these "lead-ins" to unlock the wires that amplify the stress of your daily life. 

Minute #2: Express Healthy AngerUse these lead-ins to make it safe and effective to clear stress and put the prefrontal cortex back online so you have more control over your responses. We need to activate the circuits of stress overload in order to change them, according to research conducted at New York University. Stress can be good for us, causing the synaptic connections between neurons to become fluid and opening to being updated to more effective expectations and responses in daily life. This progression of statements to release stress makes the process gentle yet effective and ushers in a wave of emotional processing that turns stuck emotions into emotions that flow. 

Minute #3: Express 7 Feelings. After a brief burst of healthy anger, your emotional brain will be open to clearing away negative emotions and bringing in positive ones. Just follow this simple formula, completing each statement in this particular order. Think of this as a "natural flow of feelings" that enable you to turn stuck emotions (e.g., anxiety, depression, shame, and numbness) into flowing feelings and access your inherent strength, goodness, and wisdom. Research has shown that we cannot think our way out of stress overload. We need an emotional process that turns stuck emotions into emotions that flow while keeping the thinking brain online. This is fundamental to the effectiveness of emotional brain training and this quick and easy tool, the "stress vaccine." 

Minute #4: Move Forward with Purpose. Our emotional brain is the hunter-gatherer's brain and it favors the survival of the species. The first three steps take us to a state of connection and well-being that neuroscientists call neural integration, which is associated with joyous emotions. However, our ancestors would not have survived if they stayed in their bliss. Survival is based on using that bliss to move forward with a higher purpose and take effective action to care for the young, provide for the family and village and watch to be sure a hungry lion is not nearby. One of the key neuroscience concepts of EBT is to clear stress first so the brain is functioning optimally before changing behavior. It's a two-step. Once stress is cleared, we draw upon the neural circuits of wise, purposeful action and can easily encode a new neural circuit that promotes successful behavior change. With practice, we can finish the process easily and quickly and experience with a surge of neurotransmitters, scoring what the EBT method calls a "Joy Point."

You can learn how to use this specific formula. State each lead-in, pause and notice the words that appear in your mind. I have taught more than 500,000 people how to become comfortable with their emotional brain and discover its hidden pathway from stress to joy. YOU have these pathways, we all do because they mirror a good mother's cognitive and emotional processing to train her baby's brain for radical resilience, which is essential to the survival of the species.

The news of President Donald Trump testing positive for COVID on top of the toxic stress of 2020 gives us new motivation to find a brain-based way to clear this intense level of stress that we are all encountering. Until 2020, most of us got by with traditional self-regulatory processing methods, which were suited to the world of the 1950s, marginal starting in 1990 as evidenced by increases in stress-related conditions, and inadequate in the world of 2020 and beyond. Your psychological health is the foundation of your physical and behavioral health. I was inspired to create this "stress vaccine" technique as part of the EBT method because you can see results rapidly and by clearing stress, we tap into our inherent strength, goodness and wisdom. Then we can transmit the peace we feel inside to others and become part of the solution we need right now. People dealing with realities that are difficult and yet moving through them to rediscover purpose and joy.


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Hartley, C.A. & Phelps, E.A. (2010). Changing fear: The neurocircuitry of emotion regulation. Neuropsychopharmacology 35:136-146.

Schiller, D., Monfils, M.H., Raio, C.M., Johnson, D.C., LeDoux, J.E., & Phelps, E.A. (2010). Preventing the return of fear in humans using reconsolidation update mechanisms. Nature 463:49-53.