What Stress Does To Your Brain


 

Stress. We all suffer from it. Some forms of stress are actually good for us, take exercise for example. In order for our muscles to grow, we put stress on them which forces them to rebuild again but in a stronger form.

Though stress can be beneficial for us, too much of it can wreak havoc inside our bodies. Many of the physical and even emotional problems that you suffer today may be due to the stress in your life.

How Does Your Brain Take Stress?

When you get into a stressful situation you feel a rush of negative emotions and experience generally unpleasant feelings. Most of us are familiar with the physical symptoms and feeling of being stressed, but what exactly is going on inside our body?

Your brain ultimately translates any stressing stimuli you encounter as cortisol. If a stressful stimulus appears, your sympathetic nervous system gets activated which concludes in the excretion of cortisol.

Your body has been designed to assume that stress is something that puts your life in imminent danger. As soon as you face stress your brain sends a whole host of signals which eventually end with the release of cortisol from your adrenal glands.

The actual purpose of cortisol in the stress response is to increase your heartbeat and deliver blood to your vital organs since this is what your body would need most in a time of emergency. Your body also increases blood sugar under stress in an attempt to give you an extra energy boost.

All of these changes are great and even useful at the moment, however, if you experience a lot of stress, then your body can wear itself out causing you to suffer from adrenal fatigue.

When your adrenals are fatigued they will no longer be able to secrete cortisol and that can lead to a whole host of problems. Cortisol is not only a key player in increasing heart rate but cortisol plays a large role in controlling inflammation, blood sugar and metabolism as well. In fact, most of your cells contain cortisol receptors,

Can Your Brain Get Damaged Due To Stress?

Believe it or not, your brain can suffer permanent damage due to stress. A study published in Biological Psychiatry revealed that individuals who had suffered a lot of stress in their lives, such as war veterans or victims of abuse, had smaller hippocampal regions in the brain.

The hippocampus is the main region of the brain responsible for controlling memory (1). Having impaired memory is only one of the side effects of suffering from long-term stress.

Other studies have revealed that suffering from high levels of stress can impair the function of your medial prefrontal cortex as well (2). The medial prefrontal cortex is a key player when it comes to decision making and in long-term memory recall.

What Can You Do To Manage Stress?

According to the American Psychological Association, the best way to deal with stress is to experience stress in a controlled environment, or in other words; exercise.

When you exercise, you give the opportunity to your body to connect with those systems that usually come into play when stress is experienced in real life. Exercise also causes a release of norepinephrine and perhaps endorphins which help modulate stress as well(3).

Your body undergoes physiological changes during stress in an attempt to increase your chances of survival. The current times have changed dramatically and now we suffer stress constantly through work, traffic or financial pressure. Exercising can help us train our body to deal with stress, and can even help our mind grow. 

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