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EEG and Stress: Could an EEG Help Determine Your Stress Levels?

An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that allows your doctor to view your brain’s electrical activity. It does this via electrodes attached to various places on your scalp. Although usually used to detect whether someone has epilepsy, it is also often used to help determine the presence of a brain tumor, stroke, brain damage, brain dysfunction, or inflammation of the brain. However, this may not be its only helpful effect. Much literature suggests that there is a positive outcome associated with getting an EEG and stress measurements. An EEG can also be used to help determine your stress classification.

What Happens During an EEG Test?

An image of a woman hooked up for her EEG testThis test causes no discomfort. It is a non-invasive way to measure brain waves.

Your scalp is marked with a special pencil, indicating the placement of electrodes, which are placed at specific points. Wires connect these electrodes to the EEG machine, which records the results on a computer. The procedure usually lasts about an hour. At the same time, a video records all your physical movements during the procedure. The only thing required of you during this time is that you relax in a comfortable position with your eyes closed.

Upon completion, the electrodes are removed and the results are analyzed. The main aim of an EEG is to determine any abnormalities in brain waves to identify various possible associated conditions.

How to Assess Stress

Mental stress has a huge impact on your body’s physiological and psychological wellbeing. Your body’s response to stressful situations is controlled by the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis and carried out by the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response.

Your HPA responds to all stimuli, whether mental, physical, or external.

Stress is normally classified according to type:

  • Acute stress: This refers to short-term stress that quickly goes away once a situation passes. Being frightened by a scary movie is a good example.
  • Episodic stress: This refers to more frequent stress episodes, although they do not last too long. This type of stress is often experienced by those working on various short-term projects.
  • Chronic stress: Chronic stress is the most damaging type of stress and refers to long-term stress. It is also referred to as permanent stress. A good example is someone with unresolved marital or financial issues.

Many studies show that psychological stress can result in or contribute to multiple health conditions. Amongst these are heart disease, stroke, depression, and cognitive issues. It can also have an indirect effect on your body, causing such seemingly unrelated symptoms as a change in eating habits, sleeping habits, and skin disorders.

Researchers have, over time, developed different methods to help assess stress. Some of these involve subdividing stress into stages. Understanding how much stress your body is under and what stage of stress it is in can be important for supporting your health. Research into EEG and stress has shown that this is one method to determine your particular stress levels and stress stage.

How Stress Affects Your Body

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response is the system your body uses to respond to stress. It is composed of six circuits, of three organs and systems each, that work closely together to help manage stress. Your Neuroaffect Circuit is one of the six biological circuits of your NEM. It is made up of the brain, autonomic nervous system, and microbiome. It affects the biological aspects of any mental health issues and makes use of neurotransmitters as a means of communication between the three parts of the circuit.

Effect of Stress on the Autonomic Nervous System

An image of neurotransmittersYour autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays an important role in the initiation of your fight or flight response once you encounter a stressful situation. This is done through neurotransmitters and the release of stress hormones. It also encourages body processes to return to normal once the stressful situation passes. During chronic stress, however, stress hormones are released constantly. This means your ANS is not able to return to normal functioning.

Effect of Stress on the Brain

Your brain makes use of hormones and neurotransmitters to function correctly. High cortisol levels, which are common during times of stress, have a negative effect on the brain as it discourages the production of certain hormones and affects neurotransmitter function.

Any imbalance in the brain could have negative consequences for not only proper brain function but for the body’s ability to deal with the challenges presented by the stress. This scenario, typically associated with adrenal fatigue, could result in various health issues, including but not limited to, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Effect of Stress on the Microbiome

Your microbiome refers to the millions of organisms found in your gut. When in a state of balance, your gut functions properly. But if there is an imbalance in their composition, problems arise. This is usually the result of some kind of stress. One of these problems is improper communication between the gut and the brain via the vagus nerve. Whether the imbalance is found in the gut or the brain, communication between the two becomes compromised as both rely on the other to function correctly. Furthermore, a gut imbalance could result in various gastric health issues that include, amongst others, obesity, type-2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease.

In a Nutshell

Stress affects all aspects of your Neuroaffect Circuit and its function. It can make changes in your brain, affect ANS function, and change your microbiome composition. In doing so, stress leads to the development of various health issues. These health issues add further stress to your body, causing a cascade of events that worsen already overloaded adrenal function. This could cause a progression of adrenal fatigue to the next stage or an adrenal crash.

EEG and Stress Classification

An image of a older woman wearing headphones and relaxingMany studies have looked at EEG and stress classification. One of the features an EGG looks at is power spectral density (PSD). PSD refers to the power present in a signal as a function of frequency per unit frequency, usually expressed in watts per hertz, i.e., W/Hz.

The following are some EEG and stress studies and their results.

2021 Study at the University of Granada, Spain

The researchers note that many EEG and stress studies show that someone either has stress or no stress, or high, medium, or lower stress levels. This study, however, was aimed at assessing quantitative stress through EEG and regression algorithms. To this end, the 23 participants filled out forms measuring their perceptions of their stress levels before taking part in the experiment.

Making use of virtual reality as a means of relaxation, participants were both monitored during their experience, and periodically had to make a self-assessment of their perceived stress levels. Their assessments, when measured against the findings of their EEG, helped researchers to develop individual algorithmic models determining their self-perceived stress levels. The results enabled researchers to fairly accurately predict a particular individual’s stress levels at a particular time.

The result of this experiment supports many other EEG and stress studies in that an EEG can help in determining stress levels and thereby enable us to determine the best cause of action to address it.

EEG and Stress Measurement Using Music

Another study in 2019 on EEG and stress conducted in Pakistan used music to help determine stress response. They used different types of music in two languages to study not only general stress response but also the effect on different genders.

The 27 participants gave a subjective report as to their stress levels immediately before the tests. English music genres listened to included rock, rap, metal, and electronic, while Urdu music genres were famous, patriotic, melodious, qawali, and ghazal. The study aimed to divide stress into its different classes.

The study result revealed some interesting data. Firstly, the English music played had a more significant influence on the participants' stress level reduction. Secondly, there was no noticeable difference in results when comparing the genres of music from either language. And thirdly, female participants showed a more marked response to music on their stress levels than the male participants. The latter may, according to the researchers, show that females have a higher sensitivity to music than males.

Review on Mental Stress Assessment Methods Using EEG Signals

This review, published in 2021, considered research on EEG and stress measurement as well as the protocols used. While it does not discount the possible benefits of studies on EGG and stress, it does mention some concerns as to the duration of tests, the procedures used, the effect of a participants’ cognitive ability, the influence of circadian rhythm, the individual differences between participants, as well as sample size, to name a few.

The review did find, however, that the various studies show brain waves do show a marked difference between states of relaxation and stress. It also suggests these tests may benefit those in the field of psychology. Using EEGs as a relaxation feedback technique, together with virtual reality scenarios, may also benefit those in high-stress occupations like firefighters. Furthermore, the review encourages further studies in this field using a wider range of participants. It also encourages making use of a virtual environment to do so.

The Reason for EEG and Stress Studies

Stress is the origin of a wide variety of health issues. These include heart attack, type-2 diabetes, various inflammatory health conditions, fertility issues, and a host of others. Yet, when seeking advice from a healthcare specialist, we tend to ask advice on addressing the symptoms, such as the medical condition to which stress is a major contributor, rather than the stress itself.

With regards to EEG and stress, however, an EEG can determine that you suffer from stress and even, to a large degree, how much stress. Further research may even allow for the calculation of the stage of stress experienced. This could help you and your healthcare provider to formulate a stress management plan that will not only help you deal with stress but promote better health in the long run. By addressing the root cause of stress, you help your body address the various symptoms.

Addressing Your Stress

An image of a woman holding a plate of vegetables and a weightStress has many possible causes, and stress relief is not one-size-fits-all. This can make dealing with stress quite difficult. You can, however, employ certain measures to help deal with stress:

  • Change your diet – cut out sugary, high-fat, and processed foods while incorporating plenty of organic fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lean protein.
  • Get enough exercise – not strenuous, but gentle exercises like yoga or even a brisk walk around the block.
  • Incorporate breathing exercises into your daily routine.
  • Make time for ‘me time’ – visit with family or friends, go watch a movie, read a book, or even take up a new hobby.
  • Consider talking to a counselor to work through the issues causing your stress.
  • Avoid your triggers if possible.
  • Consider the use of gentle, natural supplements that may help ease the situation. Only use a supplement with the advice of your healthcare professional, however, especially if you have adrenal fatigue or other health conditions.

In Conclusion

An EEG and stress measurement test may help you determine whether you indeed suffer from stress and even, to a certain extent, how bad it is.

If suffering from stress, here are a few things you can do about the situation.

  • Explore the use of natural supplements with your healthcare practitioner.
  • Make the necessary lifestyle changes that help support adrenal function and your ability to deal with stress.
  • Consider an EEG test, although they do not come cheap.

If you would like to know more about stress and other stress measurement techniques, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free** no-obligation consultation at +1-626-571-1234 where we will privately discuss any issues you may have as well as your various options. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2022 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

An EEG and stress level test will not address adrenal fatigue. It may, however, give you feedback about how stressed out you are and help give you the jumpstart you need to do something about your situation. This includes looking at your diet, a new exercise regime, and various other methods of reducing stress.

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