Researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs San Diego System determined that Navy SEALs are able to handle stressful situations better.
The researchers examined neural scans and determined that Navy SEALs activate portions of the brain that moderate their emotions when they foresee that a stressful situation is coming. What this means is that they are able to calm themselves in the interval before the stressful situation actually starts, instead of getting overexcited.
Alan Simmons, a researcher at the VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health in La Jolla, shared: “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… That’s when it really starts to wear on you.”
The researchers hypothesize that this may be the reason why the elite Navy SEALs have the ability to respond well when faced with stress, and why they remain resilient despite repeated combat tours.
The study examined 10 active-duty Navy SEALs, and compared their brains scans against those of healthy males of the same age range. The study participants were shown a series of negative and positive images. When anticipating negative images, the SEALs were found to be more likely to have parts of their brains associated with emotional control centers activated. These include the middle insula, a section deep inside the brain, and bilateral frontal lobes.
Simmons, who serves as the lead author for the study and is a member of the psychiatry department of the UC San Diego medical school, said: “It’s a small sample, but it’s a coherent answer that has really pushed us to get more of the answers we want about resilience and healing.”