5 Brain States in Emotional Brain Training

According to researcher Laurel Mellin, there are five brain states. We can look at them as a spectrum of our level of stress. Because the stress response, and what’s accordingly wired as a neural pathway, is body-based, transforming brain states is not a rational process. It requires methods such as Emotional Brain Training developed by Laurel Mellin.

A different brain state is present depending on the kind of circuit is triggered – stress circuit or joy circuit. A person functions dramatically differently in these brain states, reflecting the level of stress/joy and everyone acts broadly the same. The more stress a person is under, the more the primitive brain is in charge.


Wiring triggers brain states.

Laurel Mellin

We may not be responsible for being in these brain states; however, we are responsible for our actions while in these brain states. Unfortunately not everyone has the understanding of what is happening or have the tools to shift to a more optimal brain state. So if you are reading this, please do pass on the information.

In Wired for Joy Laurel Mellin explains the five brain states that she has simply numbered 1 to 5. e.g. Brain State 1.

Brain State 1 Brain State 2 Brain State 3 Brain State 4 Brain State 5
in flow, joyous, whole-brain balanced, attentive, attuned to the state of the emotional brain, neocortex is working well, abstract thoughts, feeling connected feeling generally good and balanced, aware of the negative and positive emotions, behaviour is healthy emotions, especially the negative ones, are ramping up, overthinking, limbic brain in charge, thoughts becoming more rigid definitely stressed, prefrontal cortex not as functional, reactive, feeling needy or distant, disconnected highly stressed out, irrational thoughts, feelings are overwhelming, merged or disengaged with others, destructive behaviour, reptilian brain in charge

Under the pain is the joy.

Laurel Mellin


We are in these states throughout the day, depending on the level of stress and the effectiveness of our resilience tools.

It is clear being in Brain State 1 is optimal; the perception here, despite how an outsider views the person’s circumstances, is one of security, connection, awareness, optimism, and a trust that all is well.

People may be surprised to hear that Brain State 4 is also a good place to be. Because in this state, that stress wire is triggered and therefore identified. It is also more fluid and open to change and so while in Brain State 4, the potential to weaken the stress circuit is great.

If you find yourself in Brain State 5, do remember that even in the darkest of darkness, there is always a silver lining. Yes it is a toxic state of mind and can be destructive as we may binge to find security, merging and distancing from others, and we are in some time warp that makes tomorrow inconceivable and therefore we are stuck on the thought that things just can’t get better. Maybe because we are feeling so terrible and desperate for something better, we can shift to Brain State 4, or even Brain State 1.

When we determine what brain state we are in, we can use the tools that work specifically for that brain state. The goal is to repeatedly shift out of unhealthy brain states and create new set points by giving the brain “states of high-level well-being.” It is also crucial for our health not to judge ourselves when we are not in Brain State 1. Sometimes we just need to be in Brain State 5.

Emotional Brain Training tools for the Five Brain States

Sanctuary Tool Feelings Check Tool Emotional Housecleaning Tool Cycle Tool Damage Control Tool
Celebrate Brain State 1 Get to Brain State 1 Get to Brain State 1 Get to Brain State 1 Get to Brain State 1 or 4
five brain states for emotional brain training

Damage Control Tool

The tool to shift from Brain State 5 to either Brain State 4 or even Brain State 1 is called Damage Control Tool.

This Emotional Brain Training tool is simple to use, which is essential as we are not able to process rationally in Brain State 5.

Damage Control Tool is saying three phrases, repeated until the “spiral of stress” unravels. The three phrases are Do Not Judge, Minimize Harm, and Know It Will Pass. It may take as many as 20 times. It takes as long as it does, so please be patient and try it out.

Make this your mantra for those times you are highly stressed and the reptilian brain is in charge.

Do Not Judge
Minimize Harm
Know It Will Pass

The Brain State 5 is all about survival and people can get very aggressive – it can feel like life or death! – with very extreme emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. Remember not to judge yourself or others and that action executed from this brain state can be destructive. This too shall pass.

So repeat these three phrases until the brain state shifts, usually to Brain State 4. Be open for moving into Brain State 1, because as pain, intense pain, dissolves, there lies joy. And you score a joy point!

As Laurel Mellin shows in her research and her book Wired for Joy, brain states are a spectrum depending on what wires are triggered. Whether more joy circuits or more stress circuits are triggered is reflected in how we feel, the type of behaviour we exhibit, and our ability to experience intimacy and connection with ourselves and others.

We cannot think ourselves out of a brain state. We need specific methods, approaches, and tools to shift. Laurel Mellin’s Emotional Brain Training for the five brain states includes specific tools that when practiced consistently can help us become less stressed and to wire more joy circuits.