March 6, 2018

Yes, Stress Can Physically Change Your Brain

We’ve all experienced some form of stress. It’s inescapable. In fact, some stress is even beneficial—or at least it was—acute stress is biologically hardwired into our brains so that we can react appropriately to dangerous situations.

Acute stress is often referred to as the “fight or flight response,” which causes instinct and training to take priority over rational thought and reasoning. Acute stress is appropriate for life-or-death situations, but when acute stress takes over during modern stress triggers (exams, job interviews, first dates, public speaking engagements, etc.) instinct still gets prioritized over reason, and that can lead to our own survival mechanism sabotaging our best interests. In modern society, acute stress does not serve the purpose that it once did, but it can still be useful in truly life or death situations.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, has no benefit. Chronic stress is what most of us think about when we think of stress. That nagging, constant feeling of unease that so many people experience on a daily basis creates a hormone called cortisol, which hangs around and wreaks havoc in your brain. Cortisol can kill, shrink, and/or stop the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that is in charge of storing memories. Cortisol also creates a surplus of the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate contributes to the brain’s production of free radicals, which attack brain cell walls, causing the brain cells to rupture and die.

Thought the root causes of mental illnesses are not fully understood, there is a sharp correlation between stress and mental illness. Researchers have found physical differences in the brains of people with stress disorders. Those with stress disorders often have higher amounts of white matter and lower amounts of grey matter comprising the brain. There is a strong correlation between stress and several types of mental illness, including anxiety and panic disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, drug addiction, and alcoholism.

But there is hope. Stress can be managed and the brain can be repaired, and even better, you can do it yourself! Mindfulness and meditation are excellent ways to reduce or remove stress. Five minutes of meditation in the morning can help keep certain individuals’ stress levels manageable, while people who are more susceptible to stress or who are in more stressful situations throughout the day may need to take a meditation break during their lunch. Stress can be managed in other ways, and you, ultimately, are in control of whether or not you experience stress. Some people, for whom stress has become a major part of their lives may need to rewire their brains to experience the world differently to limit or eliminate chronic stress. If you find that you cannot reduce your stress levels on your own, Plasticity Brain Centers may be able to help. Using your brain’s own plasticity, Plasticity Brain Centers can help you to train your brain to experience stressful situations in a healthier way and ultimately reduce stress.


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