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Have You Got Frazzlebrain?

Reclaim your calm, confident, and creative center.

Key points

  • "Frazzlebrain" results from a hidden combination of emotions, including stress, anger, and anxiety.
  • Frazzlebrain is sourced in our head, heart, and gut.
  • Neuropsychology provides simple, actionable steps back to our calm and grounded emotional center.
Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Feeling frazzled but don't know the best way to get back to your calm, creative, and confident center? I spoke with author Gina Simmons-Schneider about her timely new book, Frazzlebrain: Break Free From Anxiety, Anger, and Stress Using Advanced Discoveries in Neuropsychology.

Michael Alcee (MA): Frazzlebrain is such a wonderfully evocative title to get at the unique mix of stress, anger, and anxiety that plagues us all. And your book finds refreshingly new ways of understanding and resolving these issues that have been with us since the beginning of time. What have been some of the most surprising and intriguing discoveries that you've found in your journey of charting the unique landscape of the frazzlebrain?

Gina Simmons-Schneider (GSS): People rarely feel just one emotion at a time. For example, at a funeral, you might see people crying, laughing, hugging each other with love, and even expressing joy amidst the grief.

Psychology researchers must isolate variables to determine the outcomes of treatments and medications. So, they will study anxiety separately from anger or other emotions. However, human experiences are more complicated than that.

Anxiety, anger, and stress connect within your body's complex nervous system. Imagine for a moment that there are two parts inside of you in a tug of war. You may feel pulled at one end of the rope by your anger, irritation, fury, and at the other end, anxiety, fear, worry.

Above you is a giant magnifying glass, representing stressors such as unexpected hassles, plumbing leaks, or relationship conflicts. This magnifying glass of stress heats the tension, causing anger and anxiety to intensify.

Neuropsychologists have discovered a link between anger and anxiety. You can find this connection in the fight, flight, or freeze stress response. If you tend to worry a lot, you might avoid or flee stressful situations. Or perhaps you freeze up and feel a bit helpless to change a challenging problem. If you are quick to anger, you might display more of the fight response. You might challenge others with expressions of irritability or outrage.

Whether you express more of an anxious or worried response or an irritable or angry response, the nervous system performs its intricate ballet. Neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain, activate. Your body releases hormones that control bodily functions. These chemical reactions mobilize your body's defenses.

I find it exciting to see that when people learn coping mechanisms, as I write about in Frazzlebrain, they gain the skills to control their emotional responses. What freedom to be able to choose your own emotional response!

MA: Both our society and the field of therapy itself have cut us off at our necks, forgetting the links between body and mind, or to put it more poetically, to bridge the great distance that so often lies between the head and the heart. How has neuroscience informed your work as a therapist of integrating these facets? What are some of your favorite stories of clients integrating these two worlds?

GSS: Studying neuroscience helped me better understand the relationship between the head and the heart and the head, the heart, and the gut. When you realize that 90 percent of the brain's natural antidepressant, serotonin, is produced in the gut, you can't assume that what you put into your body is irrelevant.

Our thoughts shape our brain chemistry in several ways, too. We can think scary thoughts and instantly elevate our heart rate (head-heart connection). Those fearful thoughts release hormones into our bloodstream and acid into our gut (head-gut connection). Soon we can have gut discomfort. The gut has a complicated nervous system that then influences our brain chemistry in an ongoing conversation. If we don't learn emotional coping mechanisms, like relaxation, meditation, anger and stress management, and positive self-talk, we risk harm to our health.

I once worked with a teenage boy brought to me for anger management counseling by his worried parents. They were a very loving family, no major stressors, active in the community, but this boy could not control his anger for some reason. When I asked about diet, exercise, and lifestyle, I learned that the family went to McDonald's for breakfast every morning to keep their son from "flipping out." They all appeared pale and overweight.

I recommended that they take their son for a complete physical and consult with a nutritionist to rule out a medical issue before resuming counseling. A few weeks later, they reported that they were all diagnosed with vitamin D deficiencies and other nutritional deficits. They stopped eating fast food every day, and their son's behavioral problems stopped. We have to fuel the body with what it needs to manage our mental and physical health.

MA: So many of us are looking for practical hacks we can carry along with us through our harried day to help with frazzlebrain. What are some of the favorites that you use in your day-to-day life, and what are some of your clients' favorite go-to's?

GSS: I practice what I preach to my clients. We should all make stress management a daily habit. On most days, get at least 30 minutes of exercise (walking, stretching, yoga, aerobics, dancing, swimming, weightlifting). Meditation (mindfulness or transcendental meditation) gives the mind and body a daily experience of peacefulness.

Socializing with friends and loved ones strengthens our human ecosystem of support. Online encounters can be just as fulfilling as face-to-face friendships. We still need a hug from a live person to soothe our worries and provide each other comfort. If you prioritize stress management, you tend to make better decisions. Your life feels more manageable.

MA: Thanks so much, Dr. Schneider, for giving us a peek into some ways we can all soothe our frazzlebrain. We all need it now more than ever!

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