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Andrew Huberman: How stress affects the mind — and how to relieve it

The year has unleashed stresses few would have imagined just months ago, but the science of stress — and of stress relief — is keeping pace. A Stanford neurobiologist explains.

Understanding the biology of stress | iStock/Ponomariova_Maria
Understanding the biology of stress | iStock/Ponomariova_Maria

Andrew Huberman is a Stanford neurobiologist and ophthalmologist keenly interested in the biology of stress and ways to manage stress.

He’s developed and tested a number of stress-relieving techniques — from specific patterns of breathing to visual tools — and uses virtual reality to help humans control their stress in adaptive ways. He is also testing how people can access better sleep using stress-relief tools. Much of this work is done in collaboration with David Spiegel, MD, associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford Medicine.

Huberman studies how the nervous system takes in and processes information and uses it to drive reflexive and deliberate behavior. In that regard, humans are largely visual animals. The vast majority of the information we collect about the world comes through the eyes, and those circuits are tied directly to our most primordial “fight or flight” systems. Light, and how our brains process light energy, is closely tied to our stress mechanisms. Our most immediate reaction to stress, he notes, is for our pupils to dilate, which changes how we see the world — literally — in a way that allows us to better respond to threats. Breathing and vision can also be used to control stress.

Huberman tells us all about it in this episode of Stanford Engineering’s The Future of Everything podcast, hosted by Stanford bioengineer Russ Altman

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