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Shocking Things Your Brain Does When You’re Stressed

In mammals and humans in particular, stress causes the body to go into survival mode and triggers its internal stress response which is a mechanism used to combat life threatening scenarios. A good example of this is faster heartbeat which increases blood flow to the brain and the body and is followed up by acute senses of hearing and sight causing us humans to become increasingly aware of our surroundings.

This is done by the brain which sends neural signals to our body, telling the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn results in increased sugar levels in the bloodstream, blood pressure and heart rate.

The effect of chronic or regular stress can have a tremendous negative impact on our brain function and can lead to conditions like memory loss, mood fluctuations, brain fog, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Chronic Stress can actually shrink our Brain

It has been found in recent studies that as little as even one stressful encounter can kill numerous brain cells, which can give us a better idea of the effect of prolonged stress on the brain

Stress causes the levels of cortisol in our brain to shoot up and frequent high cortisol levels can severely harm our body’s physical and mental capacity since cortisol can eliminate, shrink or even stop the creation of new neurons in critical areas of the brain that are associated with memory, acquired learning and emotional control. Encounters that are stressful can damage our memory and ability to acquire knowledge whilst also inducing impulsiveness since stress can reduce the amount of grey matter in our brain regions which is responsible for emotional control and other physiological traits.

Prolonged stress can stop the production of new neurons (associated with learning) and can result in a reduced size of the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex which then results in emotional and intellectual deficiency.

Stress Is a Brain Killer

As discussed above, a perceived imminent threat causes the body to release adrenaline which gives our brain and body the energy for a possible “fight or flight” scenario. After a few minutes, this hormone leaves the body to let it resume it’s normal functions, but in event of prolonged stress, the brain then goes into hyperactive mode and releases glucocorticoids, a form of steroidal hormones that include cortisol which does not leave the body the same way adrenaline does, residing in the brain for long periods of time, causing long term damage.

The release and residence of these hormones in the brain can cause an imbalance in the neural system. An unusually large number of adrenaline and cortisol in the body can kill the neurons and cells in the hippocampus which leads to memory and cognitive impairment.

How to Combat Stress

Sleep and meditation is another effective tool to combat stressful situations since they both actively control the levels of stress hormones. The absence of meditative calmness and sleep can have a negative impact on the brain

While the body and brain does have its own natural capability to recoup from stressful encounters by generating additional neurons, we can accelerate the rehabilitation process by certain proactive measures which can be incorporated in our daily routine to help improve the quality of our everyday life. The incorporation of physical exercise can drastically reduce the stress levels in the body and experts recommend that even a leisurely stroll of 30 minutes every day can potentially help to lower stress and improve mental health.

Having adequate sleep, meditation and avoiding heavy meals, cigarettes and alcohol can lead to a drastically better everyday experience and elevated mood levels. Reducing other stress inducing situations like noise, bright lights and maintaining a cool surrounding temperature of 60 to 65 degrees can all result in a healthy mental state.

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