Here’s How Stress Impacts The Brain
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Everyone expresses stress from time to time. Stress has many sources, it can come from our environment, from our bodies, or our own thoughts and how we view the world around us. It’s no wonder that adults report higher levels of stress each year, according to a 2015 study by the American Psychological Association, with an estimated one-third of participants saying they were more stressed than the year before. For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health. It can help you cope with potentially serious situations. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond. However, long-term stress (chronic stress) makes you more vulnerable to everything from cancer to the common cold. The non-stop elevation of stress hormones not only makes your body sick, it negatively impacts your brain as well.
1. Stress Could Increase Risk of Stroke
Significant levels of stress could increase the risk of stroke, according to a growing body of research. In one study published in Stroke, more than 6,700 adults aged 45 to 84 filled out questionnaires about psychological factors, including stress and depression. At follow-up 8 ½ to 11 years later, those who scored highest were 59 percent more likely to have suffered a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) if they had reported experiencing chronic stress caused by problems such as health, money, and relationships. “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,” study author Susan Everson-Rose, PhD, MPH, said in the statement.
2. Stress Can Shrink Your Brain
Studies with rat brains have shown that stress can also cause your brain to shrink. Fewer connections between neurons in the prefrontal cortex inhibit our ability to make decisions and judgments. And because the hippocampus deteriorates with prolonged stress, it can make it harder to learn and remember things.
3. Stress Lets Toxins Into Your Brain
Your brain is highly sensitive to toxins of every kind. A blood-brain barrier is a group of highly specialized cells that act as your brain’s gatekeeper. This semi-permeable filter protects your brain from harmful substances while letting needed nutrients in.
Stress makes the blood-brain barrier more permeable, in effect making it leaky. This lets things into the brain you don’t want there such as pathogens, heavy metals, chemicals, and other toxins. Having a leaky blood-brain barrier is associated with brain cancer, brain infections, and multiple sclerosis.
4. Stress Excites Brain Cells to Death
The cortisol released in stress travels into the brain and binds to the receptors inside many neurons (in the cytoplasm). Through a cascade of reactions, this causes neurons to admit more calcium through channels in their membrane. In the short-term cortisol presumably helps the brain to cope with the life-threatening situation. However, if neurons become over-loaded with calcium they fire too frequently and die – they are literally excited to death.
5. Stress Can Change Neural Networks
Prolonged periods of stress can cause increased branching in the amygdala– the fear center of the brain. This means that small, less stressful situations can cause huge rises in cortisol levels. Conversely, the hippocampus– which is responsible for learning, memory, and controlling stress- deteriorates and weakens our ability to control our stress.
Since stress is such a big part of our daily lives, it’s more important than ever to take precautions to protect our brain and our body. For tips on how to reduce your stress, watch the video below.