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How a chaotic world can lead to 'dysregulation' in the human brain

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There's a lot of things to worry about in today's world. The war in Ukraine. The Covid-19 pandemic. Inflation.

The stress of the world can weigh heavily not only on one's shoulders, but on one's brain, too.

Dr. Erik Braun is a Bradley University assistant professor specializing in mental health.

"We live in this emotional space where our sympathetic nervous system is highly activated. And the sympathetic nervous system is what's responsible for that fight or flight response," Braun said, noting that leads to higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body.

Continual exposure to heightened stress can have an impact not only on individuals, but society at large, Braun said.

"It's making us as a society worse at emotional regulation, worse at tolerating the emotions that we perceive as unpleasant and negative, which is a problem, because the only way out is through when it comes to these types of negative emotions," he said.

Failing to work through stress can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse, Braun said. He said there are healthier outlets, such as meditation.

"The value is not in never pulling your focus away, it's in realizing, 'Oh, my brain is off doing this when I wanted it to be doing that,'" he said. "And so that starts to form neural pathways. And it kind of organizes your brain to be able to tolerate those emotions better."

Braun said the flight or fight response is physiological in nature. Recognition that the extreme fear triggered by that response is essentially the brain playing tricks is key, Braun said.

"When you begin to be aware of all those little things, some of the stress starts to go away. Of course, the problems are still there. But you get to see it, you put the problems into a more realistic perspective, if you can see that," he said.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.