The brain is the most complex and fascinating organ in our whole body. Without it, we can't even stay alive as it's the primary control center for our whole body. It controls everything from our emotions to our motor functions. However, the brain isn't perfect. It needs us to control it with conscious awareness so that it can control the rest of our bodies.
When we allow stress to take over, we hinder its performance. Stress makes the brain feel like danger is coming, and it prepares to fight the threat. This makes it abandon other important parts of its job to prioritize its efforts in fighting that threat. The price we pay when the brain becomes aware of the stress is high, and it can even literally physically change the brain. Here's how.
Stress Changes the Brain's Structure
Different parts of the brain control the regions used for decision-making and problem-solving. During periods of high stress, these regions aren't able to communicate the information they need. This is what makes a person feel "stuck" in a cycle of stress. The brain produces less of the matter required for decisions and problem-solving.
This causes an imbalance in the brain that can have permanent changes to the brain’s structure if the stress continues to be chronic. This is when the stress develops into more serious mental health disorders.
Loss Of Memory
Did you know that stress can make you lose your memory or at least impair it? It's no coincidence that people who are stressed are more forgetful and unable to retain specific information. Even minor stress can get in the way of remembering simple tasks like where you left your keys. This is a direct correlation between high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and short-term memory declines.
According to Dr. Kerry Ressler, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, "The basic idea is that the brain is shunting its resources because it's in survival mode, not memory mode." Other studies have found that everyday stress, such as minor inconveniences and irritations, can worse cognitive functions over time, like attention and memory. That's why it's important to practice a positive outlook and not to let small things affect us.
Stress Shrinks Your Brain
What happens is that when you're stressed, important parts of the brain such as the ones associated with emotions, metabolism, and memory shrink. This is why your appetite changes, your mood is all over the place, and you can't seem to remember anything. There is less room for these important things as your brain is filling up the space with what it thinks it needs to survive in the stress.
Brain shrinkage is likely for even healthy people when exposed to intense stressors. This makes it even harder to deal with the stress and to deal with future stress.
Stress Kills Brain Cells
Research suggests that chronic stress can even kill new neurons in the brain's hippocampus, which is responsible for learning, memory encoding, memory consolidation, and spatial navigation.
The hippocampus also produces neurons, but what happens under periods of stress is that any new neurons it develops, like any new knowledge learned, are more likely to die within a week. This makes it harder to retain anything and to move forward.
Science And Power
Research on stress and its effect on the body and brain has always fascinated us. We think that by understanding how stress works then, we can eliminate and so far, that's been proven true! By becoming aware of our stress, we can control it and eliminate it.
The more science discovers, the more it becomes clear that psychology can be used to give us power over our own complex brains. Only we can take our brain out of survival mode and reassure it that everything is okay so that it can go back to optimal functions. After all, stress is based on thoughts, and thoughts are just thoughts, not reality.
The Impact Of Childhood
It's important to be aware that our experiences in childhood have a big impact on how we deal with stress as adults. Both men and women who experienced high levels of stress in childhood and adulthood had worst functions that negatively impacted their memory and everyday functioning in life.
It's possible for the body to carry stress for years if it's not addressed. The researchers also mentioned that stress across a person's lifespan was associated with mental health problems. That's why it's important to tackle it as it comes up instead of brushing it off. For children, it's important to create stress-free environments that make them feel relaxed, loved, nd safe so as to not develop survival instincts that make them feel like they're in survival mode.
Women Vs. Men
Some study findings were very interesting as they showed that men and women experience stress differently. It's mostly found in their response and is likely because of their conditioning.
Studies have found that "fight-or-flight" is more likely in men while women experience a "tend-and-befriend". This means that women respond to stress by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which is built on attachments and caregiving. They tend to be more empathetic and want the support of their loved ones.
Stress Can Also Be Good For You
Stress isn't always all bad, and it can actually be good for you too! Some studies found that stress can improve brain performance in some people and some situations.
A healthy amount of stress can strengthen the connection between neurons in the brain. This helps to improve memory, and attention span, which makes you more productive. This is why some people tend to perform "better under pressure." It keeps life exciting and keeps you motivated and focused on your goals as long as you maintain control over it.
You're In Control
You don't have to be a victim of stress because stress is entirely yours to control. You may not be able to control the events that happen, which can be stressful, but you're in full control of how you react to them. You can either let the stress win or use it as productive motivation to win.
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