Original MD Mag article.

Fear is a common problem and can have detrimental effects. Distress and anxiety are side effects of fear. Here are some ways to combat this issue.


The Tom Brady Method


Tom Brady, the legendary football player who helped the New England Patriots win the 2019 Super Bowl, deliberately engages in a routine reported to help shut down his amygdala, also known as the fear center. It is the not so well-known desensitization technique (Floating). Rather, it is a flotation tank. In fact, it is said, the quarterback even has one in his Boston home. Brady is trying to control his stress response.


When the fear center (amygdala) is activated, humans flee the source of fear or fight it directly.  Either can be protective.  But, if the amygdala is overstimulated, stress hormones are sent out to the body, for example adrenaline and cortisol, which, over time, have harmful side effects.


The flotation tank is known as sensory deprivation therapy, or Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (R.E.S.T) and is said by some to produce a meditative state that lessens cortisol levels, that can overstimulate the amygdala, and enhances release of endorphins known to be beneficial to the brain.


According to an article in Time Magazine, research from fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) studies demonstrate that floatation can decrease activation in the amygdala. This means that the meditative state induced by the sensory deprivation experience may be equivalent to the effect of drugs prescribed by physicians for anxiety, which can have unwelcome side effects.


Regulating the Amygdala


There is more recent evidence that humans can downregulate their amygdala as well. A paper entitled, “Training emotion regulation through real-time fMRI neurofeedback of amygdala activity,” demonstrated that fMRI neurofeedback can dampen the amygdala response. It was published by scientists from five different academic institutions in the January 2019 issue of Neuroimage.


In a nutshell, participants in the study underwent four fMRI sessions with neurofeedback of their amygdala activity during introduction of emotional photos.  The control group were trained in emotion regulation but did not participate in the neurofeedback. There were four weekly fMRI sessions.  When the neurofeedback group was compared to the control group the former showed a significantly decreased amygdala activity. This finding suggests that neurofeedback, like floatation therapy, can help users regulate their amygdala. The advantages related to this ability include:


1. An outsized fearful emotional response can be attenuated

2. Use of medications for disorders related to fear may be lessened or ablated altogether

3. Use of flotation therapy could augment psychotherapy

The downside, of course, is that the neurofeedback technique is now in the research stage and not widely offered, if at all.  When and if it is, the application could be expensive and not covered by insurance.  Desensitization, too, requires an outlay for the therapist and multiple sessions must be paid for.  So, for now, the Tom Brady approach might be a better way to go for investors who experience excessive fear when the market drops. And, surprisingly, this might be cost effective.