There are some people who will tell you that they thrive on stressful environments, that it pushes them to succeed. Yet, others seem to crumble under its power. So, what is the truth about stress?
Stress is the body’s response when it faces a threat, whether perceived or real. This is a leftover from evolution, when we faced the threat of being eaten by wildlife. It causes your heart to pound, and adrenaline to course through your veins, every muscle tenses, ready to act, and your brain is on high alert. This stress response still lingers, and in truth it’s wreaking havoc.
The Perceived Threat
Yes, you would want your body to respond this way if you were faced with a shadowy figure in a dark alley, when swimming with sharks, or a burglar has found their way into your home.
However, the majority of threatening situations we find ourselves in are subjective. While others may find typical work situations difficult to cope with, others won’t. Scientists haven’t yet determined the neural mechanisms that combine the information flooding our senses with earlier experience to cause the brain to decide a situation is dangerous. There are, however, three major parts of the body that control the response adrenal glands, near the kidneys, and then the brain’s pituitary and hypothalamus.
What Happens In The Brain?
Once the brain has sensed danger, it immediately transmits signals to the adrenal glands, triggering the release of adrenaline. Once adrenaline is released, blood sugar spikes, raising the blood pressure and increasing heart rate.
Then the hypothalamus sends signals to the pituitary gland, triggering the release of factors. These travel the blood stream within minutes, producing the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is the hormone that stimulates blood sugar and blood pressure, helping you to escape from the danger. This, of course, isn’t very helpful when the danger is your boss chewing you out, or your toddler throwing a tantrum.
The Long-Term Effect Of Stress
Our stress response is the perfect response to a short-term event, however, if it continues for weeks (or even years) it can be incredibly damaging. Long-term stress can impact your immune system, affect your blood pressure, weight, and cut the number of brain cells you have. According to the European Journal of Neuroscience, the long-term effect of stress on the brain includes memory loss.
Does Stress Kill Brain Cells?
Yes, and it’s all because of the stress hormone, cortisol. Giving rats a daily injection of rat cortisol over many weeks resulted in the death of brain cells. Stressing the rodents out for the same amount of time every day produced the same effect. Cortisol damages and kills brain cells in the hippocampus (which is responsible for storing memory), and chronic stress can also cause the age to brain prematurely.
We would die without cortisol, yet too much of it causes severe damage to the brain, and leaves you more vulnerable to heart disease, strokes, and stressful events.
Cortisol Excites Brain Cells To Death
When the brain releases cortisol, stress travels to the brain and binds to receptors located within neurons. This creates many reactions, and while it’s helpful in a life-threatening situation, it causes neurons to fire too often and die. Your brain cells are actually excited to death.
Additionally, WebMD tells us that the link between chronic stress and depression is clear, especially since one of depressions common features is an excess of cortisol.
The Growth Of New Brain Cells
The adult brain will produce new neurons, however, in restricted areas. While your brain may make new neurons every day, the number it will produce is limited by the levels of cortisol.
Therefore, high levels of cortisol are actively killing your brain cells, and preventing your brain from replacing them to the levels it would normally. anti-depressant work to increase serotonin, which contributes to increasing the rate which neurons are made.
Reduce Stress Today
Reducing stress levels is key in maintaining a high level of emotional, physical, and mental health. There are many things you can do to keep your stress well-managed, the key is to make a deliberate effort and have plan.
Everyone is different, and so you need to do what works for you, here are some stress reducers that really work.
2. Tai chi
5. Warm baths
7. Aromatherapy, and especially lavender essential oils induce calm and melt away stress
8. Spa days
9. Guided imagery
11. Progressive muscle relaxation
12. Deep breathing
13. Taking regular breaks
14. Stop multi-tasking
16. Get a hobby that you love
17. Be present and practice mindfulness, which will help you focus on only the present moment
18. Act silly
19. Sip chamomile tea
20. Boost your vitamin and mineral intake
21. Avoid junk food
22. Lower your sugar intake as sugar spikes blood sugar levels causing you to crash and burn
23. Increase your magnesium intake as deficiencies induce stress
24. Cuddle with your pet
25. Go outside into nature and breathe fresh air
26. Connect with others and socialize
27. Learn to say no, this avoids overwhelm that leads to stress
28. Avoid stressful situations
A wonderful follow-up to the above article is a special free downloadable report: Brain Burnout
Live a life that mistreats your brain and you increase risks of:
Stress and anxiety
Unhealthy and premature aging
Loss of focus and concentration
And a host of physical and emotional issues which appear when an unhealthy brain triggers the release of specific hormones and chemicals