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Study: SEALs Moderate Emotions When They Anticipate Stress

Veterans Administration researchers studying the brains of San Diego-based Navy SEALs may have confirmed the validity of the frequent advice: Don't sweat the small stuff.

U.S. Navy SEALs practice Over The Beach evolutions during a training exercise in a Remote Training Facility.
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Above: U.S. Navy SEALs practice Over The Beach evolutions during a training exercise in a Remote Training Facility.

By examining neural scans, the La Jolla scientists discovered that SEALs activate portions of the brain that moderate their emotions when they anticipate something stressful is coming, U-T San Diego reported. In other words, they calm themselves down in the period before the action starts, instead of getting over-excited.

"The problem with anxiety isn't when you are anxious in a stressful situation. It's when you are anxious before that situation ever happens,'' Alan Simmons, a researcher at the VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health in La Jolla, said in remarks reported by U-T San Diego. "That's when it really starts to wear on you."

Researchers at the VA San Diego Healthcare System said this may be why the Navy's special operations troops are able to respond well in stressful situations and are resilient in the face of repeated combat tours, the newspaper reported.

Simmons said if he and his colleagues can determine how SEALs do this -- is it innate or learned? -- the technique might be taught to other troops.

An article on the research was published Wednesday in the journal NeuroReport.

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