Psychologist offers solutions for stress management

By Karina Pedraza
Staff Writer

Psychologist and comedian Matt Bellace held a lecture about stress management and high risk behavior in the Education Building Room 212 on April 18.

Bellace received his undergraduate degree from Bucknell University and his PhD in neuropsychology from Drexel University in 2005.

One of the first points of his conversation was the negative effect that alcohol has on the frontal lobe of the brain. This area, primarily responsible for decision making, experiences severe declines in blood flow with increased alcohol consumption.

“At the legally drunk mark, 0.10 Blood Alcohol Content, you have about half the (normal) blood flow in the frontal lobe,” Bellace said.

Because the frontal lobe is not done completely developing until age 25, adding the debilitating effects of alcohol is analogous to removing a crutch from someone who really needs it, Bellace explained.

The adverse effects that alcohol has on people’s judgement is illustrated by the number of car accidents caused by drunk driving in the U.S.

“Over 10,000 people die every year because of DUIs,” Bellace said. “These (are) decisions that people make to do something dangerous … and they come from a place of having a lot of pressure on you.”

Bellace explains the adverse effects alcohol can have on decision making. (Randell Carrido / Staff Photographer)

One of the reasons why impaired judgement is so dangerous is that people are not fully aware of how inebriated they are in the moment.

“Part of the human condition is that you’re just not that aware of your own impairment, and then you get this feedback from the world that says you’re not as good as you thought,” Bellace said.

According to psychologists, there are two types of thinking — hot and cold cognition. When there is little to no emotion involved, thinking and decision-making is classified as cold cognition. Those below age 25 are relatively good at making decisions in these types of settings. However, the problem is when younger people find themselves in situations where they are under a lot of pressure and stress — these conditions stimulate hot cognition, and during this time people’s judgements can easily become impaired.

Dangerously high stress levels can also lead people to engage in riskier behavior to alleviate the burden they impose on themselves. Bellace warns that this “linear progression” of thought is responsible for imposing high levels of internal stress.

Bellace describes the typical student’s linear progression of thought as being, “I need to get a A plus on this test so I can get an A in this class, so I can get a job or go to grad school, so that I can make this money, so that I can finally be happy.”

Bellace acknowledged that it is normal to stress out when entering college and learning how to cope in a challenging learning environment. However, he firmly believes that people forget how strong they are and how much they can actually handle. Becoming obsessed with perfection and engaging in linear thought forces people to engage in irrational decision making that unnecessarily increases stress levels, according to Bellace.

“One of the most important elements for success in life, both now and in the future, is learning how to regulate your own behavior,” he said. “We need to learn to engage in healthy behaviors to shift our stress levels from dangerous areas to optimal levels of stress that will stimulate and motivate us.”

Bellace explained that not all stress is bad, and a controlled amount of pressure can help to develop character in a safe manner.

“There actually is an optimal amount of stress that we need to perform at our best,” he said. “The ability to experience (stress) now in a safe environment is one of the best things you can do for yourself.”

Bellace encourages people to shift their framework to see the stressors and failures they experience in college as opportunities — the ability to handle and cope with stress successfully now will only prepare students for their future lives.

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