A Different Way to Handle Stress – Can Brain Science Help?

Stress – it’s often (if not always) a regular part of life.

But everyone handles it differently, and many people are frequently on the search for ways to deal with it more effectively.

Now, while stress triggers are usually different from person to person, the brain is actually hardwired to process stress in a certain way.

So sometimes, this hardwiring can make stress feel more intense – and the reactivity that can come along with it often only compounds the problem.

In this video clip, Rick Hanson, PhD explains why the brain is wired this way, and what needs to happen in the brain to slow down reactivity so we can deal with stress more productively.

Check it out, it’s only 4 minutes.

A deeper understanding of how the brain is wired equips us to choose interventions that can help us, and our clients, deal with stress more effectively.

What are some strategies you recommend to clients to help them manage stress? Please share your experience in the comments.


Please Leave A Comment



  1. Elizabeth Bramlett, Kansas City, Kansas says:

    I found the best way to control my stress is to eliminate it from my life which meant isolating myself from certain people and finding a career that fit me. I also need to make sure that my basic needs are being met and that I have good, healthy, positive relationships in my life. I changed my beliefs and my reactions. It took about three years to change everything around but it has proven work much better than any stress management techniques! It is possible to live a stress free life.

  2. Ian Blei, Integral Coach, San Francisco says:

    Recently, I’ve been using the same practices that Kelly McGonigal and Dan Siegel have been advocating for everything from willpower to stress reduction with great results. Especially because it’s kind of a one size fits all, so clients don’t paradoxically feel stressed having to learn too many techniques. :-) Balancing sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, by focusing on heart rate variability sync’d to breathing has been wonderfully effective for stress, which is often a result of falling behind, due to willpower and self-discipline issues. When my clients are able to jettison their procrastination and avoidance strategies, they accomplish more (dopamine reward) and get a sense of validation (serotonin) so the stress gets reduced biochemically as well. All great, functional work!

  3. Penelope Rhoades Art Therapist RN, Sydney Australia. says:

    I teach patients arousal reduction techniques with an emphasis on self-directed, stress response relaxation strategies to reduce SUDS. Building rapport while providing a safe environment for non-directive art-making to externalize the patient’s triggers through symbolism and metaphor.

  4. Joanne Bradbury says:

    For some 40 years I have used various forms of meditation with my clients, some voluntary but most non-voluntary. For those who have adopted and continued to practice these meditations there have been obvious benefits. More recently I have commenced a form of meditative yoga, Caligraphy or Qi Qong Yoga. Having found this to have multiple benefits beyond mental well being through to physical good health and fitness, I am now training to teach this form of yoga and am applying this especially with colleagues who work in the stressful field of child protection. We can not only gain peace of mind through slow, gentle movements but gain vitality and lose those extra pounds we have long fought to shed but not quite succeeded before.

  5. Louise Sonnenberg,Psychiatry,USA says:

    Mindfulness Meditation.

  6. Diane, editor, tai chi practitioner says:

    Hi, I have a situation in which I frequently am engaged in listening to highly distressed (and distressing!) telephone conversations with a person whose life is in deep trouble. These conversations were leaving me feeling utterly drained and were affecting my whole sense of self. During one of these conversations, not knowing what else to do, I started tapping (EFT accupoints). I found that, just by listening and tapping, listening and tapping, I could stay present but not engaged in this person’s torment. After one such conversation, people were noticing that I seemed lighter and more buoyant. What is best of all, the energy seemed to drain quickly from my friend’s voice and content, and the conversation would turn to more life-affirming, “normal” topics. This leaves me wondering if similar self-protective techniques would be useful for people who do telephone crisis counselling. I would be interested in hearing other ideas.

  7. Sheryl Smith, EFT Practitioner, Staunton VA says:

    Thank you for putting so succinctly what we all know intuitively.

    I enjoy helping my clients using Emotional Freedom Techniques. It works so beautifully and quickly to bring them to those feelings of peace, contentment and love.

    Sheryl Smith

  8. Terrye Vaughn, Counsellor, Australia says:

    When I notice that I am in the Red Zone I use controlled breathing to manage stress and bring my system back to the Green Zone

  9. Tony, massage therapist, says:

    I use TRE (tension releasing exercises) because it is amazing how quickly and easily it moves my mind and body back to the green zone. TRE has helped me release my tension and really feel safe deep down again in my general life which is why I teach it to my massage clients.

  10. elena says:

    Dr. Hanson, it’s taken me , admittedly rather long to work this out and it’s rather embarrassing still.

    But most recently I’m learning to listen to my *self-talk* and correct it, when it’s in a tone of beating me up. This is what I did to survive, but it’s not needed now. They did not want me, but that does not mean I’m innately *bad* or unlovable. I remind myself that the patriarchal system treats all women pretty badly and I’m not the only one. Even God is a man..how crazy is that?

    Secondly, I have kept on with picking off the excess energy (with Somatic Experiencing) left over from old and severe overwhelm. SE is also very like Rogerian Therapy, in that the therapist listens and listens and (so far) corrects nothing….calls attention to the processing–feeling in to the body, but there is no coaching or advice doled out. I see how this helps me, because I have felt someone wants to know HOW I THINK and WHAT I FEEL….when I never got that attention before.

    Thirdly, I practice mindfulness…not sitting in a lotus posture–but when I am meeting people and talking with them, and dancing with them. I take notes on what is feeling really uncomfortable and when I want to *take a powder*, when my heart beat increases, or my throat closes, and more than ever when I start to *default to the primitive vagas* and I lose my words…and this happens less and less. My avoidance strategy is disappearing. And often I actually feel accepted, liked and sometimes that people find me interesting and engaging (i.e., they are not lying).

    I’ve been doing EFT to crystallize my goals. *You won’t get what you want, until you know what you want*.

    The last thing that is helping tremendously is a surprise to me. I’ve started lifting light weights (added to the daily walk and some yoga). No doctor has been needed to tell me that my heart muscle is getting stronger. I am sure it is.

    • Paula Childcare Los Angeles says:

      I am so grateful to have read ur profile. It was like looking in the mirror. From the not being wanted -to dance(Tango) to Somatica experiencing to well sooo much of what u wrote about. Thank u. Are u in LA?

  11. Nancy Psychiatric Nurse, CA says:

    Thank you so much, Dr. Hanson.
    Often times I am worried about an ongoing stressor. On my good days, I remember to tell myself “Nothing new has changed.” It’s not a new event. It’s just the same ongoing one.
    I think the ongoing stressors–concern about family members– is probably the worst type of stress for me. It does not going away. I my distract myself with work etc. but when things are quite, my brain goes right to that worry! Nancy

  12. Cynthia Lackner, MA Emotional Brain Training Provider, Denver Colorado says:

    I use the skills and tools of Emotional Brain Training in my private practice.

    I teach people how to recognize when they are in allostasis or Brain State 5 (reptilian brain) and teach them how to go to homeostasis Brain State 1, (homeostasis) when they are triggered throughout the day. I have them go through a CYCLE where they express the natural flow of feelings (anger, sadness, fear, guilt) about that particular topic. I show them that there is a common thread in these feelings and then help them with a positive powerful thought to switch over from the negative ones. In saying the positive powerful thought over and over, they can learn to change their own Brain State. This exercise take 2 minutes and can be done at work, in court, (I work with many attorneys in my practice), in the car and the shower, really anyplace you can focus on what you are feeling and change your brain set point throughout the day.
    In your terms, it takes the client from the red zone to the green zone.

    • michelle says:

      Like what things do u say to yourself to get from red to green? “everything will be ok this is just your sense of overwhelm leadingl to fear, all is fine” for example? Lhs1919@att.net. michelle

  13. Shar, clergy, Lancaster, PA says:

    I have served as an Intentional Interim Clergy for 10 years (5 difficult church turnarounds) and coached many pastors. What I did not realize was the impact of long-term stress and just two months ago, my body just shut down and I am on a 2-month renewal leave trying to find my way back to emotional and physical well-being. I am letting go of many things but I feel that I could use a year of repite! I have a long journey of healing ahead and I’m facing another appointment in August that already feels dreadful. The power of stress tears down critical thinking, wisdom, and the ability to find peace. It robs you of sleep, a sense of worth and nags you with feelings of deep sadness. I am learning but cannot seem to find my way back yet. I have hope that stress can be managed or else my ministry is not sustainable in a system that values results over clergy self-care. I am writing, painting, and laughing with friends who love good food and good wine. Yet, I still feel lost – stress has taken its toll.

  14. Susanna Ligabue, psychologist and psychotherapist, Milano, Italy, EU says:

    Thanks for this clear and well focused video and for the generous, comments following it.

    I have a Transactional Analysis and body centered training background and I found interesting in my practise to connnect the attention to stress reduction and anxiety disturbances, using a mindful attitude toward thinking (as King Laughbottom said before) and toward body, posture, breathing and expressing, through movements and voice as many others said before.
    I found here the opportunity of some new inspiring connections (!)

  15. L Darlene Pratt says:

    I use, and often recommend, deep breathing and mindfulness as well as going outside to a natural environment. The cognitive approach, on a scale of 1-10………..can also be helpful. I often do a body scan to find the most tense part of my body and work on relaxing that area.

  16. Marcia, LMHC,GMHS,CMHS, Poulsbo, WA says:


  17. Marcia, LMHC,GMHS,CMHS, Poulsbo, WA says:

    Would you please give us a picture of the actual brain response to the green, red or pink zone and how the brain will look when we reach a specific zone and what we need to do to change the brain to reach that quiet space in the brain for calmness: “what needs to happen in the brain to slow down reactivity so we can deal with stress more productively.”

    Please mention the amygdala or whatever your research has found that answers this for the client so they can add this to their focus for calming. I wish clients would meditate but believe that they need a focus point for their brain as perhaps a motivation.

    Meditation is often refused by teenagers especially. I use guided imagery but want some recent brain facts that might snag a teenager’s mind somehow to get them more motivated.

    I love the EMDR body sensations that find extremely helpful but I seem to be failing about motivating them beyond the session. Something that is affective and appealing to a teenager?

  18. Jan Lansdowne psychologist Melbourne Australia says:

    Thank you for the video. I find Rick Hanson’s explanations very helpful. My main strategy (along with many others) has been mindfulness of body, breath and thoughts within the Buddhist framework of impermanence and interdependence. The uncritical focus on and acceptance of sensations in my body allows me to understand what I’m stressed about and often why as I observe the thoughts that arise from focus on sensations, and the philosophical framework of Buddhism allows me to stay with the sensations even if they are extremely distressing as I believe they are a function of circumstances (i.e. not a reflection of who I am) and that ultimately they will pass. Recently I have been having kinesiology sessions and have found this to be a remarkable swift way to resolve underlying stress due to past trauma.

  19. tony sansomgower says:

    Ruth, I love the way you are gradually encapsulating broad themes into manageable bites and segments. The Red Green (and even Pink) zone analogy is excellent…I’m semi-retired but teaching Judo to a class in a rural town in Queensland…wonderful to see the physicality of young judoka as they come to terms with these ‘zones’ of excitability. I shall adapt the Red/Green zone for them and see how it sits! Thanks again for the updates; on reflection I wish this approach had been available in my undergrad time!

  20. Yaacov David Shulman says:

    PS By singing I don’t only mean singing songs but also riffing and improvising whatever seems right and fun at the moment.

  21. Yaacov David Shulman says:

    I have found in myself–I don’t know how this works for others–that when I sing my mind stops its stressed thoughts, including anxious thoughts and negative interpretations of what people are doing or saying.

  22. Clare Vettes, retired school psychologist, Eureka/CA says:

    I sing or chant HU for 20 minutes a day, 2ce a day. And when I perceive that I am stressed out I HU at the moment. HU is a mantra, sound vibration and ancient name for Creator, Spirit, Universe, whatever one wishes to call IT. HU brings the forces of love to bear in an individual.

    Although it is meant to only center oneself and not change anything such as one’s environment, I have noticed a definite lightening or softening of circumstances when HUing. HU is the most precious word I know.

  23. Vij Richards RN Psychotherapist On, Canads says:

    I teach my clients to be aware of where in their body do they feel their stress. To learn to connect to themselves to help inform themselves of when safety, satisfaction or connection is threatened. Then teaching soothing techniques breathing, exercise, self-talk , tapping, talking to accept and move through the stressor, learning that, they can build confidence and resiliency to whatever challenges their life.

    I like your Green/Red zone analogy and will use if I may.

  24. Maureen Parnaby, Clinical Hypnotherapist says:

    I explain this process to all of my clients, then teach them controlled breathing vis the 7/11 technique. Also EFT and self hypnosis. I also direct them to this site. Informative…thanks!

  25. Bev Streng, TRE Level II Provider, South Africa says:

    I fully agree with many of the techniques mentioned above eg mindfulness, exercise such as walking, cardiac coherent breathing. In addition, TRE (Trauma and Tension Release Exercises), is an excellent tool that clients can learn and use on a regular basis in order to reduce stress levels and bring the body back into homeostasis. TRE was developed by Dr David Bercelli and is a simple, body-based approach. I have had good success with clients using TRE, usually improvements within about 4- 6 weeks. TRE somehow enables clients to become more aware of their feelings and more able to cope with the ‘stuff’ of life.

    • michelle says:

      What is an example of a simple exercise under TRE. I fear overwhelm if I Google it. Michelle Lhs1919@att.net

  26. Julie, Teacher says:

    My number one way to deal with stress is the question my stressful thoughts, and then I often find that I have no reason to be stressed or the stress is reduced considerably. Byron Katie has been a wonderful teacher on this for me. She offers a simple method of four questions and a turn around to question your stressful thoughts.
    I also sooth my stressed out self by coming back to the present moment and connecting with my breath. I find buddhist psychology as a great way to approach life, and I try to cultivate a loving acceptance of whatever comes my way and an open mind/heart rather than clinging to or running away from phenomena. I find walks in nature deeply calming and this gives me the opportunity to feel grounded and get perspective. I came across a Ted talk recently (sorry forgot the who the speaker was) who said that the latest research shows that stress in itself is not harmful-its our ATTITUDE to stress that determines whether it is harmful. If we see stress as something that is a challenge that we will grow and be stronger from our body actually kicks in and repairs itself! Good to know! r

  27. Patty Lotz says:

    Tapping, breathing, meditation.

  28. David Grainger, Psychologist Research says:

    I train people in rhythmic breathing using a computerised cognitive behavioural training biofeedback app. This intervention serves to increase heart rate variability and lifts mood states while endowing emotional resilience with training.
    The client accesses 5 skills to record in a emotional landscape, list somatic effects (where do I feel it in my body), and reflect on what gives them energy so as to increase the positivity ratio.

    • Carolyn M. Nelham, Psychologist, Clinical Neuropsychologist, Montreal, Quebec, Canada says:

      First, thank-you for the video rick.

      Hi David. I am wondering which biofeedback app you are using?


  29. Jacob Jaffe, psychologist, New York, N.Y. , USA says:

    Confront their issues as appropriately as they can, learn from “mistakes”, and continue to live and learn.

  30. Irene Lyon, Somatic Experiencing & Feldenkrais Practitioner, Vancouver, BC. says:

    If you are interested in the REAL DEAL on how to help rewire and reboot the survival instinct response, I have a FREE GUIDE on my website that you can download. “How To De-Stress In 7 Steps” In it I cover by taking a deep breath to relax won’t help, plus how our survival instincts (fight/flight/freeze) gets stuck in our system…. and there is also a guided awareness exercise (the 7 steps) Folks have really found it useful as it goes into the biology of stress and how to be with the stress responses as oppose to just repressing (taking a deep breath for ex) or suppressing them (not allowing our frustrations/pains/angers) to move.

    My target market on my website is entrepreneurs who are burnt out, but this free training applies to everyone. There is a report, video training and cheat sheet, Check it out:


    Irene xo.

  31. Pauline Irving, Energy Medicine & EFT Practitioner says:

    To help me to keep in the ‘Green Zone’ I use a grounding and breathing technique to enable me to keep centred and calm, along with techniques from Energy Medicine & EFT. These are taught to my clients. I also find special spaces in nature and enjoy this time appreciating what is around me.

  32. Kim Longbottom, LCSW, LCAS, Wilmington, NC says:

    I just listened to your video and it explained the two states of the brain – resting and stress, and that the stress state is for short bursts of stress- not a sustained way to operate in the world. But it doesn’t say anything a about tools to use to optimize the health ways to utilize stress levels, or how to begin to reduce those who stay on sutsined stress mode. I did enjoy the comments where people share what they do to help clients reduce stress.
    I like to help people learn to be mindful of their thoughts first, because by attending to their thoughts, they can create a pattern of attention to how and when they allow stress to control their lives (Stress response). If they are mindful of thoughts, this also lends to being mindful of their feelings, behaviors and bodily reactions to life. This will eventually lead to being mindful of what their core beliefs and values are. All of this will lead clients to look at their hearts desires and are they being true to themselves.
    Conflict & stress come from these factors being out of line with one another. So my job is to teach clients to monitor themselves (to think about what they are thinking about) so they can be at peace.

  33. Judy Koehler, LPC in St. Louis, Missouri says:

    Lately, I have been recommending DBT skills, especially mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness. Stress reduction is often the result of these practices.

  34. Rose Hickman Rigole, LMFT in Los Angeles, CA says:

    I have found EMDR ( Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to be incredibly powerful for my clients to address that general background feeling of lack of safety, satisfaction, and connection that attracts additional, painful interpretations of the here and now. Sometimes the allostatic load is caused by powerful experiences in their past that have not been fully metabolized in the brain and body. By feeling, at a base level in your core, that things are generally ok, normal ups and downs can occur without living in the “pink zone”.

  35. Maria Solarez, Human Resources, Santa Rosa says:

    Meditation and walking and talking through my fears helps me manage stress.

  36. Lorie Speciale LMHC, CRS Northport NY says:

    Thank you for sharing such helpful and important information and for your inquiry. I am a bodymind therapist and I love learning and teaching about the body-mind-spirit connection. I created a “bodymindfullness” meditation series called, “Befriend Your Body” that helps reduce stress, heightens present moment awareness and teaches people how to access the wisdom of their body. I find it to be an easy, practical and effective tool that also meets the three core needs of safety, satisfaction and connection that Dr. Rick Hanson discusses in this video. It helps people connect to their own body and understand what their body is trying to tell them, feel safety within their own skin and feel gratitude for all their body does for them. Thank you once again for providing an opportunity for me to share what works for me and my clients and for bringing more love into our world through education and raising consciousness!

    • Chris Wegener, Fremont, Nebraska says:

      I would love to get more information on what you are using. How can I contact you for more information.

      • Lorie Speciale LMHC, CRS Northport NY says:

        Hi Chris,
        You can email me at Specialel@hotmail.com and please put Befriend Your Body in the subject line.
        Also, for a 7 days free sample, you can go to BefriendYourBody.org. I look forward to hearing from you.

  37. T says:


    Great video. I do both mental and physical faster eft to let go and reset. I also do a centering practice where I bring my attention to length, width, depth and then center in what I care about and commitments. I also do mythoself work where the mind/body/ story are aligned.



  38. Deacon T.J. van der Weele, St. Stephan Church, Tulln, Austria says:

    In addition to the above from Steven and Nicole, I encourage my clients to look at people around them, with ´blessing eyes´: to think good thoughts and to share that non-verbally with people around them (turning away from introversion+using the mirror-neurons). The feed-back from my religious inclined clients is so positive.

  39. Jinny Joy LaRock says:

    Biofeedback training is designed to provide TOOLS for sensing and recovering effectively from stress. The information that is provided by the body throughout daily life becomes a communication link to the conscious mind…biofeedback…body feedback. Through use of self-awareness with the aid of a biofeedback practitioner, the effective and brief regulation of this response can be learned and applied. The biofeedback approach is well researched and highly effective for those 5-95.

  40. Steven Bulcroft, MFT Yreka, CA USA says:

    One of the best strategies I have found for “dealing with stress” is walking. I have found that even in clients who are overwhelmed with stress if they walk 20 minutes a day 5 days a week their whole response to the stress in their lives is changed. I have seen people go from being stressed out (10 out of 10 – distressed) to a 1 (general well being) in just a month after walking 5 days a week for 20 minutes a day. In fact, many have found this so helpful that they have increased the time and frequency of their walking.

  41. Nicola psychotherapist & hypnotherapist says:

    Great description, I explain the fight or flight and how our bodies listen to our thoughts and respond as if that fearful scenario is actually happening. I teach relaxed breathing with lots of suggestions of loosening and letting go on the outbreath. I help them remember more confident calm times and places and re-focus them on self-soothing instead of using the imagination to expect the worst rather than hope for the best, or at least be able to step back and see the bigger picture, once they are calm. If they are traumatised the I use the Rewind technique and lots of imagining that future with a calmer more confident approach,

    • Shay says:

      Nicola, thank you for your comments. Would you please give some more info on the Rewind technique? Thank you.

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