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Are you holding your breath? - Structures of arousal and calm - Deric Bownds

2012 talk/web-lecture
by Deric Bownds on 26 June 2014

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Transcript of Are you holding your breath? - Structures of arousal and calm - Deric Bownds

DERIC'S MINDBLOG 2006-
>2,300 subscribers,
~400-500 views/day
>one million views
> 2,800 posts ->
~60 favorites ->
~7 core topics:

-Freud redux - The constancy of models of mind
-Can we cope with understanding our minds?
-Biology designs us for faith
-The 200 millisecond manager - it's all over in less than a second.
-Are you breathing? - The evolution of arousal and calm
-What woke up this morning? And what can you do about it?
-The necessity of self delusion.
“Are you holding your breath?” - Structures of arousal and calm
Evolution of arousal - "go for it or scram"

Stress = getting stuck in scram mode
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/01/there-are-no-moral-facts-metzinger.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2007/05/why-dont-we-do-what-we-know-works.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2006/04/our-inability-to-cope-with-what.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2006/03/what-we-know-may-not-change-us.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2009/02/epistemology-of-everything.html
BOOK #2 FANTASIES, FRAGMENTS

-modern minds in paleolithic bodies
-bottom up/top down
-the juices that drive it all
-there is no reason.
-the 200 millisecond manager
-epochs of the undermind
-upstream, downstream
-the spritzers
-amygdala attacks
-the self constructor
-the confabulator
-a mental immunology
-applets of the mind
-the mental toolkit
LECTURES, WEB LECTURES, ESSAYS, 1995 -

Making Minds - Evolving and Constructing the "I" - A talk given in the Evolution Seminar Series at the Univ. of Wisconsin on April 28, 2011

Who wants to know? - The Nature of our Subjective "I" - Lecture given at Istanbul Cognitive Neuroscience meeting, May, 2010.

The "I" Illusion - Public lecture on the experiments that make it clear that our sense of having an "I" is an illusion, but it is not a trivial one.

The Beast Within - Human Animals/Human Selves - We appear to be able to know the animal within us in a way that is closed to other animals lacking an “I”.

MindStuff: A Guide for the Curious User - A brief essay on how things fit together.

Mindstuff: BonBons - Sample writings and things I'm interested in.

Thinking about Thinking - Biology of Mind course Lecture

Evolving Mind - Biology of Mind course Lecture

Origins and Structures of the Human Mind - Biology of Mind Public Lecture
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2007/03/ultimately-monopolies-fail.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2011/11/compatibility-of-neuroscience-and-free.html
THE BIOLOGY OF MIND BOOK - 1999
~10,000 copies sold
Biology of Mind Course, 1994-2004
The union card sane stuff -
visual transduction research 1963-2000
The molecular biology of vertebrate rod outer segments NIH EY00463 - 28
The wacko stuff -
Movement course in 1970s
Brain and mind reading 1980s -
Thursday, June 29, 2006 – Monday, April 23, 2012

1,253,047 views of 2136 items
491,889 clicks back to the site on 1850 items

Item Popularity
Name Views Clicks
Prozac reverses maturation of some brai… 21589 769
More on mindfulness meditation and emot… 5436 277
Text without context and the death of c… 2603 216
Internet hive mind - the madness of cro… 890 1578
How language shapes our thinking 1596 795
Predicting the future with web search … 1188 919
Google’s Earth 1269 827
This Year's Ig Nobels 1241 835
Free Will: Neuroscience vs. Philosophy 962 1053
A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. 1010 963
Brain clutter - what's left undone ling… 994 972
Language about motion causes motion ada… 951 1005
I. Structures of arousal and calm

-Autonomic Nervous Sytems

-Mammalian innovations

-layering of new on old brain

-Human refinements
III. Defining the self that stresses or calms

-downstairs/upstairs

-the beast within

-varieties of I

-multiple selves
II. Brain and body correlates of stress/calm:

-rapid turnover of players

stress:

-zaps your brain (reversibly)

-alters gene expression

-activates amygdala and raises blood pressure

-sympathetic, right anterior insula, cingulate, prefrontal activation


calm:

-vagus nerve more active

-frontal inhibition of amygdala

-general loosening of attentional inhibition, incresed creativity

-parasympathetic, left anterior insula, cingulate, prefrontal activation
1. Structures of calm and arousal: What machinery has been cobbled together over evolutionary time?

2. What is going on in our brains and bodies during calm or stress?

3. What is the nature of the self that is having this experience?

4. What are the regulators of calm and stress to which we have conscious access?
1.
2.
3.
4.
4.
Multiple, or Mini-minds

Chicken or egg?
II. Brain and body correlates of stress/calm:

-rapid turnover of players

stress:

-zaps your brain (reversibly)

-alters gene expression

-activates amygdala and raises blood pressure

-sympathetic, right anterior insula, cingulate, prefrontal activation


calm:

-vagus nerve more active

-frontal inhibition of amygdala

-general loosening of attentional inhibition, incresed creativity

-parasympathetic, left anterior insula, cingulate, prefrontal activation
A. downstairs -> upstairs:

-are you breathing?

-sympathetic/parasympathetic

-insula

-HPA axis

-immunity/inflammation

B. upstairs -> downstairs:
metacognition

1. biased self construal:

-positive self delusion

-the optimism bias

-psychological immune
system

-psychological neoteny

-power/helplessness

-importance to group

2. less biased self construal:

-the 200 msec watcher

-3rd versus 1st person,

-seeing versus being

-immersion versus distance

IV. The balance of stress and calm - regulators
Upstairs Upstairs Upstairs
Downstairs Downstairs Downstairs
+
+
-
-
+
-
0
50-100
200
300
400
500 milliseconds
onset of sensory
stimulus or thought
automatic processing
of elemental aspects
of stimulus
unconscious editing
by self system
Normally unconscious processing
that can be observed by expanding
awareness to earlier times.
normal self conscious experience
How do you get to Carneige Hall? Practice, practice, practice!
The topic of this talk derives from a scan of the thousands of posts I have made since 2006 on Deric’s MindBlog. You can get statistics on these blogs (column on right), and I’m amazed how many viewings there have been.

The scan for my favorites yielded groupings into areas that have I been most interested in, and from a list of core topics (middle column) I have selected this year's topic on calm and arousal .
Meditation increases cortical
folding, gyrification, particularly
in the insula, a hub for internal
autonomic, affective, and cognitive
integration
-place a hand along the side of your neck
-relax the neck muscles into the hand
-sense the heart beat in the carotid artery
-count the number of heart beats as you inhale and exhale
-let the muscles around your eyes soften
-close your eyes for 30 seconds and have no
internal thoughts, emotions, or images
-then open your eyes slowly and continue on to the next frame.
Recipe for
chronic stress:

-twitterverse

-blogosphere

-New York Times
The Twittering Machine - Paul Klee
And, what are the body correlates of the more insidious ramping up of low level chronic stress that goes with modern life?
What are our bodies doing when we are watching a tranquil woodland scence or listening to meditative music, versus stressed out (which happens to me when I listen to acid rock music).
I'm going to chunk the material into four parts:

1. Stuctures of calm and arousal: What machinery has been cobbled together over evolutionary time.

2. what is going on in our brains and bodies during calm or stress.

3. What is the nature of the self that is having this experience.

4. What are the regulators of calm and stress to which we have conscious access.Now, please bear with me, and follow the instructions you see next.

Now, please bear with me, and try the following brief exercise. You'll see why in a minute.
I hope that you feel slightly more calm after this
brief exercise, which obviously was attempting to tinker with your calm versus arousal, with the balance between the parasympathetic (calming) and sympathetic (arousing) branches of your autonomic nervous system. I suspect that you were unable to follow my instructions to turn off your upstairs generators of internal thoughts and images, that's their job, regardless of what 'you' will them to do. The first two topics in this presentation deal with the downstairs regulators, the third deals with the upstairs "I" that is hard to shut up, and the final section deals with both.

Now, here are the topics:
This first section is a quickie review of some of the players, starting with our autonomic nervous system and ending with some human refinements.
The autonomic nervous system has similar elements in teleost fish, amphilia, reptiles, birds, and mammals: a sympathetic system associated with arousal, releasing norepinephrine at end organs, and a parasympathetic system with restorative and vegetative functions that is approximately the mirror image of this, using acetylcholine.
Mammals do something interesting with the 10th cranial nerve, the vagus nerve, by adding a new branch. The older branch mainly deals with primary survival behaviors, fighting, fleeing, freezing, etc. The newer branch regulates approach and avoidance with respect to social behaviors.
Craig describes a bilateral partitioning from basic spinal cord and brain stem homeostatic (body regulatory) systems up to our highest prefrontal lobe functions, in which the right side spends energy and the left side brings it in, reflecting the relative activities of the sympathetic versus parasympathetic nervous systems. The insula areas of our left and right cerebral cortices shown in the MRI graphic process higher order re-representations of homeostatic senses which are sent to prefrontal cortical areas and are the site of our subjective feelings about our bodies. Sensory information about our bodies from sympathetic and parasympathetic systems feeds to the insula and then on to the prefrontal cortex.

Left forebrain activity correlates more with parasympathetic activity, nourishment, safety, positive affect, approach (appetitive) behavior, group-oriented (affiliative) emotions, and right forebrain correlates with sympathetic activity, arousal, danger, negative affect, withdrawal (aversive) behavior, and individual-oriented (survival) emotions.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/05/integrated-view-of-our-subjective.html
Our brain's downstairs, brainstem and basal forebrain clusters of cells, spritz the upstairs with many of neurotransmitters you probably have heard of, by sending axons diffusely over different upstairs areas to chill or arouse them, to toggle alertness, anxiety, elation, depression, or aggression. The locus coeruleus, a sympathetic nervous system outpost, sends axons up to the cortex to release norepinephrine to enhance attention and memory. The serotonin spritzing system has more of a chill out effect. The mesolimbic dopamine system regulates motivation and desire. The acetylchoine system regulates cortical arousal.
The list continues. A few more of the players are:
-The opioid peptides, endorphins, etc., regulating pain as well as pleasurable feelings. Along with oxytocin, the so called trust hormone, they figure in regulating social attachments and the distress caused by social isolation. Oxytocin elicits the parasympathetic opposite of the sympathetic fight-or-flight response.

-Aggression is modulated by testosterone. Epinephrine and adrenocorticosteroid levels correlate with arousal and excitability. They are higher in emotive than in repressed individuals, and in the chronic stress response. Chronic arousal, or chronic sympathetic nervous system activation and glucocorticoid release, causes immune suppression, inflammatory cytokine production, atherosclerosis, digestive disorders, and accelerated aging and death of nerve cells in the hippocampus and temporal lobes, and also decreases in acetylcholine in the cortex and hippocampus that impair learning and memory.
-Humans are masters at misapplying our ancestral emotions, leaving mechanisms that were designed for short term emergencies turned on all the time. Robert Sapolsky makes the point that we don’t have the common sense of zebras, who don’t get ulcers. They chill out while munching grass, and go into high-gear stress only when the lion really shows up.
During acute stress the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated to release corticosteroid, and this along with the locus coeruleus noradrenergic spritzer system causes complicated shifts in large scale neuronal populations, increasing cortical and subcortical connectivity. If you give the subjects in these brain imaging experiments the beta-adrenergic blocker propanolol, the brain responses and stress are lowered.
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6059/1151.abstract
McEwen makes the point that a little bit of stress is a good thing, keeps the system in tune; too much is debilitating. He uses the term ‘allostasis’ to describe mechanisms that give resilience and stability by appropriately and transiently responding to environmental stressors. His summary graphic of all the players is hopeless - arrows pointing in both directions everywhere, inflammatory vs. anti-inflammatory cytokines, parasympathetic vs. sympathetic activity - You want complicated, you’ve got complicated.
In our brains evolutionarily older rapid response systems are layered under more recently evolved upstairs conscious cognitive response systems that can inhibit or slow down the older downstairs responses. A rapid pathway straight from visual input to our amygdala primes us to jump away if we see a snake like shape in our peripheral vision, and a slower pathway through the upper sensory visual cortex and then say ‘never mind, its a water hose’. It’s failure of the ‘hey, its alright’ system that underlies chronic stress syndrome. People with stronger connections in the inhibitory pathway from the upstairs dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to the downstairs amygdala show lower trait anxiety.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2009/09/observing-brain-pathway-that-lowers.html
You get a more nuanced view of downstairs and upstairs response systems from MRI studies like these from Dolan’s lab at the Welcome Inst. in London. Here they are watching people play a computer game in which they are in a maze, and are told that they are being pursued by a virtual predator that can chase, capture, and inflict pain. As the virtual predator draws close, brain activity shifts from the ventromedial prefrontal cortex to the periaqueductal gray, along with an increased subjective feeling of dread and decreased confidence in escape
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/317/5841/1079.abstract
As we get to higher levels of brain processing, and more nuanced positive or aversive reactions, our brain has evolved the capacity to link the literal and the metaphorical by duct-taping metaphors and symbols to whichever pre-existing brain areas have provided the closest fit. The insula, about feelings, does moral as well as sensory disgust. The Anterior cingulate that registers physical pain also handles the pain of social rejection. Textural metaphors — phrases like "soft-hearted" “wet behind the ears” — turn on the parietal operculum important in the sense of touch.
I. Structures of arousal and calm

-Autonomic Nervous Sytems

-Mammalian innovations

-layering of new on old brain

-Human refinements
This finishes the brief tour of some structures of calm and arousal. Now we move on to further brain and body correlates.
This is the web version of a talk given on Tuesday May 8, 2012, to the Tuesday noon Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It discusses some of the structures of calm and arousal - whether we are chilled out or losing it. The material is cooked down to four sections that: (1), note some structures regulating calm and arousal (2), list some brain and body correlates (3) consider the definition of the self that stresses or calms. (4) discuss bottom-up and top-down regulators under some voluntary control that can alter the balance between calm and arousal.

You can find this talk via a link at
or at the URL
Click on "More" in the window, go to full screen, and proceed through the presentation by clicking on the arrow at the bottom right of the screen. If you move the cursor to the left margin zoom buttoms appear. Clicking on an area of the screen allows lets you move about on your own. Clicking on one of the URL links in the text opens that link in a new tab on your browser. Press escape to look at that reference, then go back to the talk tab and resume the talk sequence.
Now, a few correlates of calm or stress. They are happening in a high turnover system. Our entire brain is recycled about every two months, and molecules of synapses get replaced in hours to days. Synapses reflect a living confluence of top-down and bottom-up pressures. Bottom up corresponds to gene or RNA expression patterns remembering what the state of a synapse should be; top down is a constant replaying, or jangling trace, that helps keep labile synapses stabilized, and can cause epigenetic modifications such as methylations to genes that changes their longer term expression. No component of the system is itself stable but the entire production locks together to have stable existence.
Sapolsky has shown that even temporary stress, a single dose of corticosterone of the sort would be induced by temporary stress, can cause hypergrowth of nerve cell dendrites in the basal amygdala and heighten anxiety behaviors (to be sure, we talking about rat brains here). Return to a calm safe social environment reverses the changes.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2012/02/our-brains-grasp-of-metaphors-grounded.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/04/even-brief-stress-can-zap-your-brain.html
Chronic stress dials Sapolsky’s rats from adaptive to habitual behaviors. The changes reverse if rats are returned to safe environment.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2009/08/chronic-stress-dials-brain-from.html
In humans, the expression of 45 genes associated with stress, immune reaction, and inflammation responses increases after one hour of a stress induction protocol, these dial back down on moving back into a environment of tranquil music.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2006/05/stressing-out-or-chilling-out-changes.html
Stress from social isolation correlates with expression of a large array of pro-inflammatory genes.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2009/12/social-isolation-and-inflammatory-gene.html http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2010/08/inflammatory-and-neural-responses-to.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2012/02/negative-social-interactions-and-body.html
Inflammatory cytokines appear when we are in socially stressful situations.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/02/your-amygdala-and-your-blood-pressure.html
II. Brain and body correlates of stress/calm:

-rapid turnover of players

stress:

-zaps your brain (reversibly)

-alters gene expression

-activates amygdala and raises blood pressure

-sympathetic, right anterior insula, cingulate, prefrontal activation


calm:

-vagus nerve more active

-frontal inhibition of amygdala

-general loosening of attentional inhibition, incresed creativity

-parasympathetic, left anterior insula, cingulate, prefrontal activation
Now, some correlates of subjective well-being, or being more chilled out and less anxious. Positive emotions and calming emotions correlate with enhanced left parasympathic, left anterior insula, left anterior cingulate and left frontal activation, while negative emotions like anger, fear, etc., enhance activation of the corresponding structures on the right side. Social affiliation and calm correlate with increased activity of the vagus nerve, an activation that can dial down immune system inflammatory signals.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2011/10/how-vagus-nerve-links-our-brains-to-our.html
For questions or comments, I’m at mdbownds@wisc.edu
People who test as having high levels of subjective well-being react more slowly to negative versus neutral information and this correlates with increased activity in their anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). In the top figure, higher anterior cingulate activity correlates with a longer reaction time to negative stimuli, and in the lower plot a higher measured psychological well being (PWB) correlates with increased ACC activation to negative versus neutral stimuli. The data also shown people with lower subjective well being have more rapid and higher amygdala reactivity. Basically, people high in PWB recruit the ventral ACC when confronted with potentially aversive stimuli, and this reduces activity in subcortical regions like the amygdala, the aversive stimuli is appraised as less salient evaluative speed is slower. The upstairs is telling the downstairs to chill it.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2007/02/brain-correlate-of-subjective-well_12.html
Positive affect loosens top down inhibitory controls, and increases the breadth of attentional allocation to both external visual and internal conceptual space. In a test of creative problem solving, people are more likely to solve unusual word associations when they are in a positive compared with negative or neutral mood (left). This correlates with broader visuospatial attention (middle), measured by a task that instructs observers to selectively attend to a central target and ignore irrelevant flanking distractors. So there is a correlation (right) between more creative problem solving and relaxed attentional focus.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2007/01/being-happy-broadens-your-scope-of_05.html
The self or “I” that we presume ourselves to be comes with a lot of ancient baggage. We have the cores of the machinery that once constituted the whole mental life of reptiles, amphibians, lower, then higher social mammals with larger brains. Our sense of self or “I” has nested components like Russian dolls. We have a phenomenal animal substrate "I" looking out on a world with a sense of `just being' that doesn't include explicit self referential awareness of being in that state. Then there is a more advanced present centered sense of `mineness', having a self, no sense of history or future. Finally there is the reflective "I" that recruits language.
Our self conscious “I” is most associated with the frontal grey stuff . The pink stuff is the residue within us of our primitive mammalian brains, our pandora’s box of emotional memories of things to be anxious or stressed about.
Central to understanding calm and arousal is the fact that what feels like our unitary self is in fact a society of selves. We are like a corporation, with a board of directors taking turns at controlling the show, each feeling at the time that he or she constitutes all of the “I”. Just as our brains and bodies turn over and are renewed rather rapidly, the same is true of the self we are currently experiencing ourselves to be.

There are a plethora of multiple selves models, starting with Freud and William James, describing how we can act as if we are different people from moment to moment. Depending on your age, you may be familiar with the pop therapy from the 1970s, transactional analysis, which describes us at different times being one or another subset of the parent, adult, and child within our personalities.

Calm and stress depends very much on who is running the show.
What is quite amazing is that our human brains can sometimes be the detached observer of - the generation of these successive selves, their emotions and their purposes. This is one of the subjects of the final portion (part IV.) of this talk - regulators of stress and calm.
IV. This fourth chunk of the talk is another list - categories that emerged from my scan of MindBlog posts, different classes of regulators of calm and stress - regulators that might be at least partially accessible to voluntary awareness and control. Part A deals with the downstairs structures mentioned in parts I and II of the talk. Part B continues with the upstairs selves mentioned in part III.
Simply noticing what is going on in the downstairs, independent of the head trips going on upstairs, does things. Demonstrating this was the point of the brief exercise at the start of the talk. Paying attention to physical body correlates of calming or stressing can influence whether what is going on is encouraged or discouraged. Granting attention space to noticing breathing usually enhances parasympathetic (calming) over sympathetic (arousing) nervous system activities. (Hence the “Are you holding your breath” phrase in the talk’s title.) Style of breathing (shallow, rushed, rapid versus deep and slow) correlates with parasympathetic versus sympathetic activation. There’s a subtle bump up in blood pressure and sympathetic activation during inhalation and a bump down, with increased vagus activity, on exhaling. Holding your breath while focusing on something increases sympathetic activation. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces it. Breathing techniques and instructions are at the core of most meditation regimes and yoga exercises.

Slowing breathing, which is a feature of most meditation techniques, dials up the left anterior insula system, breathing more rapidly can increase anxiety and right anterior insula activity. Giving someone an instruction to breathe more slowly or more rapidly can alter emotional reactions to stimuli. Showing subjects a picture of a baby seal is more likely to elicit warm nuturing emotions when breathing is slowed, but increased breathing rate make subjects more likely to suspect the seal might attack or bite them!

Both chronic breath holding and hyper-ventilating can reinforces stress-related chemistry. HPA stress axis activity increases, the body becomes more acidic, oxygen, carbon dioxide balance is undermined, kidneys begin to re-absorb sodium, a number of biochemical parameters are thrown out of whack.

http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/01/are-you-holding-your-breath.html
Physical regimes of moving, stretching, yoga, massage, are used to reduce arousal and stress. Muscle massage actually increases the expression of regenerative and reduces the expression of inflammatory genes.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2012/02/massage-therapy-suppresses-expression.html
A brief bit of web searching brings up numerous mechanical aids that claim to assist your parasympathetic chillout for a mere $150-300. The MindSpa and Relaxmate II uses LED glasses that generate 1-7 cycles per second oscillating light patterns of various colors claimed to be tuned to brainwave frequencies associated with calm. (Blue light is the best stimulus for a recently discovered visual pathway outside our usual red/green/blue cones... It stimulates melanopsin in the ganglion cells of the inner retina that project, among other places, to the amygdala.) The StressEraser uses a finger sensor to convert pulse to a heart rate variability wave that you use to synchronize your breathing with your heart rate cycle.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2006/09/brain-stressed-out-try-this-machine.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2010/11/color-of-ambient-light-directly.html
A. downstairs -> upstairs:

-are you breathing?

-sympathetic/parasympathetic

-insula

-HPA axis

-immunity/inflammation
B. upstairs -> downstairs:
metacognition

1. biased self construal:

-positive self delusion

-the optimism bias

-psychological immune
system

-psychological neoteny

-power/helplessness

-importance to group
2. less biased self construal:

-the 200 msec watcher

-3rd versus 1st person,

-seeing versus being

-immersion versus distance
IV. The balance of stress and calm - regulators
Moving now to part B of the list, we note that the techniques of sensing and nudging bottom up regulation just mentioned in part A are a upstairs cognitive awareness function. It is our subjective “I” that brings awareness to things like breathing or muscle tension, and notes that choosing to slow or release them lowers anxiety or blood pressures. The class of top down and bottom up tricks are metacognitive, hierarchical... like the set of Russian dolls I showed earlier There is a superordinate variety of “I” being aware from a more quiet space of other equal or lesser component “I”s.
Our upstairs self awareness can tweak mainly either downstairs or upstairs processes which then feed back on each other, consonance between the upstairs and downstairs messages can lead to positive feedback loops that reinforce calm or anxiety, dissonance can be a recipe for stress and HPA axis activation. In bootstrapping out of a stressed space, slower breathing and a less threatened self construal can mutually reinforce each other in a virtuous positive feedback loop. If feeling threatened goes with held or rapid breathing, they reinforce each other to make ramping up more autocatalytic.

There is a “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?" paradox in the circular feedback loop between downstairs and upstairs. Cognitive processes can direct the mood-altering chemistry that originates in the brainstem, and spontaneous changes in this chemistry can alter our thoughts. In this latter case, there may be no "reason" for our thoughts or feelings, in the way we commonly suppose. We still will frequently confabulate or make up a cover story to legitimize what is really a bottom up cause. Experiments with hypnotized, split-brain, or anosognosic patients have shown that we will cheerfully confabulate bogus reasons for a behavior if the real cause is not accessible to our consciousness.

Being really stressed out over the state of the world might sometimes not really derive from the merits of the case but might rather be a confabulation whose ultimate cause is HPA axis/stress axis arousal from a bit too much wine with dinner last night that generated amygdala arousal and indiscriminate fear that has gone looking for and found a cause, this being one of the neatest definitions of anxiety that I have seen: fear in search of a cause.
( http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/03/anxiety-fear-in-seach-of-cause.html )
Alternatively, a genuine cognitive dissonance (like reading the New York Times almost any day) - whose origin really can’t be attributed to body physiology - really can reek havoc with our homeostatics: blood pressure, digestion, etc.
A. downstairs -> upstairs:

-are you breathing?

-sympathetic/parasympathetic

-insula

-HPA axis

-immunity/inflammation
B. upstairs -> downstairs:
metacognition

1. biased self construal:

-positive self delusion

-the optimism bias

-psychological immune
system

-psychological neoteny

-power/helplessness

-importance to group
2. less biased self construal:

-the 200 msec watcher

-3rd versus 1st person,

-seeing versus being

-immersion versus distance
IV. The balance of stress and calm - regulators
A. downstairs -> upstairs:

-are you breathing?

-sympathetic/parasympathetic

-insula

-HPA axis

-immunity/inflammation
B. upstairs -> downstairs:
metacognition

1. biased self construal:

-positive self delusion

-the optimism bias

-psychological immune
system

-psychological neoteny

-power/helplessness

-importance to group
2. less biased self construal:

-the 200 msec watcher

-3rd versus 1st person,

-seeing versus being

-immersion versus distance
IV. The balance of stress and calm - regulators
A. downstairs -> upstairs:

-are you breathing?

-sympathetic/parasympathetic

-insula

-HPA axis

-immunity/inflammation
B. upstairs -> downstairs:
metacognition

1. biased self construal:

-positive self delusion

-the optimism bias

-psychological immune
system

-psychological neoteny

-power/helplessness

-importance to group
2. less biased self construal:

-the 200 msec watcher

-3rd versus 1st person,

-seeing versus being

-immersion versus distance
IV. The balance of stress and calm - regulators
My MindBlog review pointed to two broad categories top down regulators, one emphasizing biased self construal (middle list to the left) the other attempting more unbiased self observation (right list) So, to start with the first:

It seems clear that most of us are completely unequipped to function without a vast array of positive delusions about our abilities, our futures, etc. There is a large literature on this. Dan Dennett and McKay have just written a treatise in Brain and Behavioral Science that examines possible evolutionary rationales for mistaken beliefs, bizarre delusions, instances of self-deception, etc., they conclude that only positive illusions meet their criteria for being adaptive.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2009/07/evolution-of-misbelief.html
Johnson and his colleagues have produced an evolutionary model suggesting that overconfidence maximizes individual fitness and that populations tend to become overconfident as long as benefits from contested resources are sufficiently large compared with the cost of competition. Unbiased strategies are only stable under limited conditions. Maybe this is why overconfidence prevails, even as it contributes to market bubbles, financial collapses, policy failures, disasters and costly wars.
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v477/n7364/full/nature10384.html
A. downstairs -> upstairs:

-are you breathing?

-sympathetic/parasympathetic

-insula

-HPA axis

-immunity/inflammation
B. upstairs -> downstairs:
metacognition

1. biased self construal:

-positive self delusion

-the optimism bias

-psychological immune
system

-psychological neoteny

-power/helplessness

-importance to group
2. less biased self construal:

-the 200 msec watcher

-3rd versus 1st person,

-seeing versus being

-immersion versus distance
IV. The balance of stress and calm - regulators
Most people report they are above average drivers and typically place themselves higher many scales than they really are. 70% of high schoolers rate, and, according to themselves, a spectacular 94% of college professors possess teaching abilities that are above average.
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v477/n7364/full/nature10384.html
In predicting the future we overestimate the likelihood of positive events, and underestimate the likelihood of negative one. Underestimate our chances getting divorced, being in a car accident, having cancer. We expect to live longer, be more successful, have more talented kids, than objective measures would warrant. This is officially named the optimism bias, and it is one of the most consistent, prevalent, and robust biases documented in psychology and behavioral economics.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982211011912
People update their beliefs more in response to information that is better than expected than to information that is worse, and Dolan’s lab has actually found this reflected in activity in the prefrontal area that tracks estimation errors. Highly optimistic individuals show reduced tracking of estimation errors that called for negative updates. In other words, optimism is tied to a selective update failure and diminished neural coding of undesirable information regarding the future.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2011/12/ignoring-bad-newsthe-brains-rose.html
Our experience of the world is a mixture of stark reality and comforting illusion. We can't spare either. We might think of people as having a psychological immune system [on prezi list] that defends the mind against unhappiness like the physical immune system defends the body from illness. Defense needs to be good, but not too good - somewhere between “I’m perfect and everyone is against me” and “I’m a loser and I ought to be dead.”
We engage in a wide array of mental gymnastics to salvage our self-esteem rather than owning up to our mistakes. Recall the famous “mistakes were made” comment regarding the U.S. charging into the Iraq war.
One way to negotiate aging is to deny it, not spend give a lot of mental space to self fulling personal or societal expectations of decline. You can argue that psychological neoteny, retaining youthful attitudes and behaviors, is quite adaptive, especially in old folks, because it might help preserve plasticity of mind and personality that is very useful in ever-changing modern life.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2006/06/our-psychological-immune-system.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2007/09/mistakes-were-madecognitive-dissonance.html
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2006/12/psychological-neoteny_15.html
Achievement is usually enhanced by having an inflated view of one’s abilities, which can also lead to working harder to live up to this enhanced self-image. Students who exaggerate their current grade point averages are more motivated towards education and have higher calming parasympathetic activation when discussing academics.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/05/want-to-chill-out-exaggerate-you.html
If we generate a construal of ourselves as powerful, rested, and competent this can dial the blood pressure and sympathetics down and parasympathetics up. A self construal of being powerless has the opposite effect. Changes in immune status and inflammatory processes correlate with this transition. Actually, our brain links to our immune system via the vagus nerve.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2011/10/how-vagus-nerve-links-our-brains-to-our.html
One's role in a hierarchy, or relative position in a gradient of personal helplessness to power, is a fundamental determinant of individual well being in both animal and human societies. Subordinate individuals show more chronic stress, anxiety-like behaviors, and susceptibility to disease. This was most strikingly shown in a well known study on British civil servants.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/06/social-heirarchy-stress-and-diet.html
So, as a summary: self deception can be useful and adaptive as long as it is not wildly inappropriate. It can enhance vitality and motivate performance, yet enough realism should be retained to avoid straining to do what can not be done.
A. downstairs -> upstairs:

-are you breathing?

-sympathetic/parasympathetic

-insula

-HPA axis

-immunity/inflammation
B. upstairs -> downstairs:
metacognition

1. biased self construal:

-positive self delusion

-the optimism bias

-psychological immune
system

-psychological neoteny

-power/helplessness

-importance to group
2. less biased self construal:

-the 200 msec watcher

-3rd versus 1st person,

-seeing versus being

-immersion versus distance
IV. The balance of stress and calm - regulators
Now let’s move on to top down approaches for regulating the balance of calm and arousal that attempt more unbiased self-construal (the right hand column in the list to the left). These approaches try to note and possibly alter the cognitive mechanics of what is going on. This is different from list in the left hand column, which emphasizes influencing more impersonal physiological homeostatic parameters such as breathing, body tension, heart rate, etc.
It also is ignoring the question of the why, or causes, of stressing out versus calm (self stories, self construals, etc. listed in the second column of our list), and instead just observing thoughts or behaviors as they rise. This is the style of cognitive therapy that trains people to note what isn’t working when it starts up and sometime be able to choose to do something else. There is data on the effectiveness of this therapy of the sort that is missing for insight therapy. Knowing a cause for a maladaptive behavior totally doesn’t guarantee ability to change it.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2006/12/when-why-isnt-crucial.html
Anti-anxiety Apps for iPhone and Android system are actually being released that use the sort of cognitive bias modification used in normal cognitive therapy to try break bad brain habits. One attempts to deal with the social anxiety caused by seeing only the few hostile faces in a crowd of people with mostly relaxed expressions. Neutral and hostile faces are replaced by a single letter flashed elsewhere on the screen, with the instruction being to push a button to identify the letter, but this is meaningless; the object is to snap the eyes away from the part of the screen that showed the hostile face, like conditioning the brain to ignore the bad apples. That’s all there is to it. (There is debate on the effectiveness of these more mechanical approaches.)
In personal internal monitoring or introspection the focus is on tuning one’s awareness to what is going on in the interval of time immediately after a new thought or sensory input happens that might trigger a stressing or calming reaction, what we might call call “the 200 msec watcher.” We have the ability to move our window of awareness closer to the action, and on seeing an impulse rise, have more choice on whether or not to go there.

Cultivating attentional stability is the core element of meditative techniques. They strengthen the capacity for attention like physical exercise strengthens our muscles.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2006/06/attention-revolution.html
Mindfulness meditation is a balancing act between attention and relaxation, the usual instruction being simply to be in a quiet space, breathe, and have no thoughts, let them go if they happen. This is not rocket science, and it doesn’t take long to have an effect. A study at Univ. Wisconsin - Stout, following Richard Davidson’s report that a rigorous 8-week meditation training program caused a significant increase in left-sided anterior frontal activation associated with positive affect, found that 5-15 minutes a day for five weeks showed the same sort of effect. Davidson’s new trade book, “The emotional life of your brain” has a chapter devoted to various meditative regimes that change what he calls the six dimensions of emotional style.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2011/10/very-brief-meditation-training-produces.html
A neuroimaging group at UCLA provides evidence that meditation thickens the brain, strengthens connections, and increases cortical folding particularly in the insula, which is a hub for internal autonomic, affective, cognitive integration. (What they actually see is a correlation between meditation and cortical thickness, which doesn't actually prove a cause. It is possible that people with more natural gyrification in their insulas are more likely to be meditators.)
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2012/03/meditation-practice-increases-brain.html
Short of the whole meditation gig, there are MRI studies showing that the simple act of instructing people to be aware of current emotions decreases amygdala activation.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2012/01/simple-way-to-attentuate-emotional.html
A. downstairs -> upstairs:

-are you breathing?

-sympathetic/parasympathetic

-insula

-HPA axis

-immunity/inflammation
B. upstairs -> downstairs:
metacognition

1. biased self construal:

-positive self delusion

-the optimism bias

-psychological immune
system

-psychological neoteny

-power/helplessness

-importance to group
2. less biased self construal:

-the 200 msec watcher

-3rd versus 1st person,

-seeing versus being

-immersion versus distance
IV. The balance of stress and calm - regulators
We are in the amazing metacognitive position of both being a brain process (whose unstoppable job is generating thoughts, emotions, and selves) while at the same time being able to be another process watching the generation of these thoughts, emotions and selves. We can switch from moments of quiet without thoughts, to noticing thoughts and emotions when they appear, to unreflectively immersing in just being those thoughts, then switching back again.
We can switch between immersion in being angry, being an angry person, and noting that we are “angry-ing”, or switch between being fearful and noting ourselves fear-ing. “fear-ing” and “being a fearful person.” Internal watching regimes can span different time scales. Shorter time scales note sudden flashes of emotions like fear or anger, like little emote-lets, longer time scales note slower changes in self construals such as the sense of power versus helplessness, or what variety of self is present (in the TA jargon, a greedy or scared child?, a judgmental parent?, a calm rational adult?)

The practical point about all these time scales, during which we can be an observer of our own internal processes as well as being those processes, is that in the moments of suspension when this distinction is being noted we are sometimes able to veto acting out a maladaptive habitual emotion or self construal, to not go there and do something else instead. We move from being a moral patient to being a moral agent.

Several studies show that internal third person narratives - in which subjects view themselves from a distance as actors in their own narrative play- correlate with a higher sense of personal power and ability to make personality changes. First person narratives - in which the subject describes the experience of being immersed in their personal plays - are more likely than third person narratives to correlate with passivity and feeling powerless to effect change.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2007/05/3rd-and-1st-person-narrative-in.html
Another study demonstrates that switching from 1st to 3rd person view lowers blood pressure and enhances the parasympathetics.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2008/03/upset-reduce-your-blood-pressure-by.html
A. downstairs -> upstairs:

-are you breathing?

-sympathetic/parasympathetic

-insula

-HPA axis

-immunity/inflammation
B. upstairs -> downstairs:
metacognition

1. biased self construal:

-positive self delusion

-the optimism bias

-psychological immune
system

-psychological neoteny

-power/helplessness

-importance to group
2. less biased self construal:

-the 200 msec watcher

-3rd versus 1st person,

-seeing versus being

-immersion versus distance
IV. The balance of stress and calm - regulators
WHY DOESN'T WHAT WE KNOW CHANGE US??
So, this is it for my shopping list of things that might tweak the balance of calm and arousal in a useful way - short of drugs, that is, and I really don't want to go there. The basement stuff, the upstairs stuff, with upstairs partitioned into relatively more or less delusional approaches, seeing what's going on in addition to being what’s going on, immersion vs. distance, first vs. third person, and on....

So, the question is, why doesn’t what we know change us? In my own case, appreciating the material I’ve been going through can bear no relationship to whether at any particular time I am exuding beatific calm or am a basket case. I’m sure you have had the experience of having insights into your behavior that seem to have little practical consequence. Joe LeDoux - the guy who has done the seminal work on anxiety, stress, and the amygdala - knows that meditative breathing exercises push the autonomic nervous system towards it parasympathetic side. Does he do them? He says not effectively or often enough. I have my own toolkit of techniques to maintain personal poise, sanity, vitality, etc., how is it that I don’t use them more religiously to maintain those desired qualities?

Well…. there are some limits intrinsic to the fact that these chill out techniques are mainly constructions of our adult minds. They require attention and energy for their maintenance, unlike the pandora’s box of less useful older habits and ways-to-be-in-the-world that formed in our youth, and are more hard wired into place. During periods of inattention or low energy, we don’t notice the these older autopilots and temperaments slipping back into place to resume their residency. So... “How do you get to Carneige Hall? Practice, practice, practice!”
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2007/05/why-dont-we-do-what-we-know-works.html
Having mentioned a few correlates of stress and calm, let's move on to part III. of this talk, which asks "what is the "I" that stresses or calms?"
III. Defining the self that stresses or calms

-downstairs/upstairs

-the beast within

-varieties of I

-multiple selves

-introspective access

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.3093.html
chronic stress causes growth of dendrites in the basolateral amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex and shrinkage in the hippocampus, dentate gyrus and medial prefrontal cortex.
A decrease in gray matter volume in the right basolateral amygdala from pre to post 8 weeks of mindfulness based stress reduction is associated with decreases in perceived stress over this same time period
http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/1/11
URL for the sequence you
just finished:

http://alturl.com/3g7km
http://alturl.com/3g7km
“Are you holding your breath?” - Structures of arousal and calm
This is the web version of a talk given on Tuesday May 8, 2012, to the Tuesday noon Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It discusses some of the structures of calm and arousal - whether we are chilled out or losing it. The material is cooked down to four sections that: (1), note some structures regulating calm and arousal (2), list some brain and body correlates (3) consider the definition of the self that stresses or calms. (4) discuss bottom-up and top-down regulators under some voluntary control that can alter the balance between calm and arousal.

You can find this talk via a link at
or at the URL
Click on "More" in the window, go to full screen, and proceed through the presentation by clicking on the arrow at the bottom right of the screen. If you move the cursor to the left margin zoom buttoms appear. Clicking on an area of the screen allows lets you move about on your own. Clicking on one of the URL links in the text opens that link in a new tab on your browser. Press escape to look at that reference, then go back to the talk tab and resume the talk sequence.
http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/
For questions or comments, I’m at mdbownds@wisc.edu
http://alturl.com/3g7km
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0036036
(By the way, recent works suggests that this lateralization may reverse in left handed people.)
See the full transcript