La Jolla brain researchers hope findings may help train regular troops

Alan N. Simmons, Ph.D. of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, co-authored a report about brain activity in Navy SEALs. The report sheds light on why military special operations forces perform well in extremely stressful situations. Simmons is shown here with brain studies from the report in La Jolla on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. — K.C. Alfred

Alan N. Simmons, Ph.D. of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, co-authored a report about brain activity in Navy SEALs. The report sheds light on why military special operations forces perform well in extremely stressful situations. Simmons is shown here with brain studies from the report in La Jolla on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. — K.C. Alfred

VA researchers studying the brains of San Diego-based Navy SEALs have possibly confirmed what your dad always told you: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

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. 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,” said Alan Simmons, a researcher at the VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health in La Jolla.

“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.

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By Jeanette Steele, Union Tribune