SMU psychology professor Alicia Merit was interviewed by NPR as an expert outside source on a new study about calming the mind.

Public radio network NPR interviewed SMU clinical psychologist Alicia Meuret for her expertise on breathing as it relates to fear and anxiety.

The NPR article, “A Tiny Spot In Mouse Brains May Explain How Breathing Calms The Mind,” published March 30, 2017.

Meuret is director of the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at SMU, with expertise in discussing the differences between fear and anxiety and when each is helpful and adaptive and when they are harmful and interfere with our lives.

An associate professor in the Clinical Psychology Division of the SMU Department of Psychology, Meuret received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Hamburg based on her doctoral work conducted at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. She completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University and the Affective Neuroscience Laboratory in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

Her research program focuses on novel treatment approaches for anxiety and mood disorders, biomarkers in anxiety disorders and chronic disease, fear extinction mechanisms of exposure therapy, and mediators and moderators in individuals with affective dysregulations, including non-suicidal self-injury.

The article “A Tiny Spot In Mouse Brains May Explain How Breathing Calms The Mind,” cites new findings from Meuret’s research, which found patients undergoing exposure therapy for anxiety fared better when sessions were held in the morning when levels of the helpful natural hormone cortisone are higher in the brain.

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EXCERPT:

By Jessica Boddy
NPR

Take a deep breath in through your nose, and slowly let it out through your mouth. Do you feel calmer?

Controlled breathing like this can combat anxiety, panic attacks and depression. It’s one reason so many people experience tranquility after meditation or a pranayama yoga class. How exactly the brain associates slow breathing with calmness and quick breathing with nervousness, though, has been a mystery. Now, researchers say they’ve found the link, at least in mice.

The key is a smattering of about 175 neurons in a part of the brain the researchers call the breathing pacemaker, which is a cluster of nearly 3,000 neurons that sit in the brainstem and control autonomic breathing. Through their research is in mice, the researchers found that those 175 neurons are the communication highway between the breathing pacemaker and the part of the brain responsible for attention, arousal and panic. So breathing rate could directly affect feeling calm or anxious, and vice versa.

If that mouse pathway works the same way in humans, it would explain why we get so chilled out after slowing down our breathing. […]

[…] Alicia Meuret, an associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University who also wasn’t involved in the study, wasn’t sure if what the authors described as calm mouse behavior could be described as such. “It’s hard to determine what calm behavior is [in mice],” Meuret says. “We can see their behavior, but we don’t know what effect the loss of neurons has on their emotions.”

Banzett echoed that concern, noting the authors inferred emotion because “they equate the increase in grooming behavior with the emotional state of calmness.”

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