It is widely known how much stress can negatively impact our health but we don’t often really dig into how much stress impacts the health, function and structure of our brains. Not all stress is bad, a certain amount (with adequate breaks to recover) keeps us motivated and challenged but persistent, or chronic stress, can be extremely detrimental to our brains. Let’s discuss how stress impacts the brain and then what YOU can do to better manage the stress in your life.
First, chronic stress:
- Increases our risk for mental illness,
- Interferes with logical thinking and decision making,
- Hurts our memory,
- Kills brain cells and inhibits the creation of new brain cells,
- Increases our risk for developing dementia.
There seem to be a number of different factors that play a role in the many impacts of stress on the brain. One of the biggest contributors appears to be high prolonged levels of cortisol, one of the hormones our body releases when we are stressed.
In addition, our brain diverts blood flow to certain parts of the brain and away from other parts of the brain when we are stressed. This strengthens connections in one area and weakens connections in another when we experience persistent stress. Chronic stress also reduces certain chemicals in the brain that are important for mood regulation and wellbeing and increases other chemicals, which in excess, create free radicals.
So what can we do to minimize the damaging effects of stress on our brains? Manage our stress! To manage the stress in our lives, we need to:
- Recognize EARLY warning signs that we are experiencing too much stress.
- Identify the sources of stress.
- Identify what YOU can and cannot change about those sources of stress.
- TAKE ACTION on things we can change and LET GO of things we cannot change.
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Submitted by: Carrie Myers, Dementia Care Specialist, ADRC of NW WI
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