Being stressed for longer than normal periods can do extensive damage to your body. The modern world demands us to live in a constant state of alert, coupled with life’s pressures, this can wear down our psychological health and have a detrimental effect on our immune systems. According to a poll by the American Psychiatric Association, Anxiety and stress levels in the general population have reached their all-time high levels.
A survey done on 1000 adults in the US, 405 reported feeling more anxious than they were the same time last year. Another 39% reported being as anxious as they were last year. Among the list of stressors reported, safety, health, and finances topped the lists while personal relationships followed close.
So, how does stress affect our brains? We have compiled some scientific facts that prove the effects of stress on our brains as well as how to fight it.
Higher cortisol and cognitive problems
According to a neurological study, higher cortisol levels in adults aged between 40-50 years have been linked to smaller brain volumes. Researchers analyzed data from 2,231 participants out of which they scanned 2.108 brains using Magnetic resonance imaging technology to determine their brain volumes.
The team found that people with cortisol levels demonstrated cognitive difficulties such as remembering facts and having a bad brain structure. These effects were more significant in women.
A surprising finding from this study is that researchers didn’t notice any correlation between cortisol and dementia despite participants demonstrating a decline in their cognitive abilities.
However, there were positive findings, as the study found that higher cortisol levels did not correlate with APOE4, a genetic risk factor linked to cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s.
1. Your brain’s learning efficiency declines
Scientists from the University of California analyzed neural stem cells in the hippocampus of the adult rat brains. Researchers found that under longtime stress, stem cells matured into a different type of glial cell called oligodendrocytes, which produces myelin to protect nerve cells. Normally, stem cells mature into neurons. Researchers believe that This could change how neurons communicate with each other and disrupt functions like memory and learning.
2. An increased risk of developing stroke
There is a significant risk of stress and stroke. According to a study published in the American Heart Association journal, chronic factors such as depression, anger and hostility increased a person’s chances of developing a stroke or Transient Ischemic attack (TIE).
“There’s such a focus on traditional risk factors—cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking, and so forth—and those are all very important, but studies like this one show that psychological characteristics are equally important,” lead study author Susan Everson-Rose, Ph.D., MPH, said in the statement.
3. It Increases the likelihood of developing depression
Scientists from the National Institute of Mental Health conducted studies on mice. They found that mice placed in extremely stressful environments had a decreased resilience and developed symptoms that suggested depression. This Is believed to be caused by brain inflammation as a result of chronic stress. Furthermore, chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine could also lead to depression. Excessive levels of cortisol deplete the brain of these chemicals.
The good news is that our brains can change for the better especially when exposed to positive activities that help control stress. Here are a few coping mechanisms that could help to control stress and make a great difference.
Numerous studies have proven the great mental benefits of meditation. It can be used to alleviate stress, symptoms of mental illness such as anxiety. Meditation works by slowing down the brain while you focus on your breathing. Hence, it offers an outlet for negative emotions and life stress.
Exercise offers a host of physical health benefits. It also releases feel food hormones that help the brain deal with stress more efficiently.
Life has made us so busy that we rarely have some time off just to treat ourselves. While we try to cope with life’s stress and beating deadlines, we expose our brains to so much stress. Once in a while we can blow off some steam and put the mind in a relaxed mode away from all the negative energy.
- Eating healthy
Our bodies thrive on proper nutrients; without which they cannot function optimally. Eating plenty of fresh, whole foods such as vegetables, grains and meats are good for our wholesome health.
- Getting enough sleep
Insomnia and unhealthy sleep patterns have been linked to increased stress levels and poorer cognitive functions. Try to have and maintain a good sleep schedule to keep your body and mind at an optimum level.
Laughter is good for the soul. Our Lives are so busy that many of us don’t smile or laugh nearly as much as we should. Take time off your busy schedule and have some fun with friends and family.
Stress can do great damage to our minds and bodies, but we can also control how it affects our life by using the techniques above. The key thing is to never let stress control your life.