Here’s How Stress Affects Your Brain

Your brain takes a beating when anxiety gets out of hand. Here’s how stress affects your brain—and how to calm back down again.


Effects of stress: Your brain doesn’t learn as well

Neural stem cells in the hippocampus—a structure important for learning and memory—typically develop into neurons. But under chronic stress, these stem cells instead become oligodendrocytes, which coat neurons with an insulating material called myelin.

The resulting excess of myelin perturbs the balance of communication and timing within the brain’s circuitry, altering how neurons connect with each other, according to research in rats and cellular models conducted by the University of California at Berkeley scientists.

“Ultimately, these changes can affect cognitive function, including changes in learning, memory, and emotional well-being,” says Sundari Chetty, PhD, now a faculty member in the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford School of Medicine and co-author of the 2014 paper presenting these findings in Molecular Psychiatry.

“Substantial alterations in myelination have been noted in a number of neurological conditions and could potentially contribute to mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

 

Effects of stress: You have a greater stroke risk

Significant levels of stress could increase risk of stroke, according to a growing body of research. In one study published in Stroke, more than 6,700 adults aged 45 to 84 filled out questionnaires about psychological factors, including stress and depression.

At follow-up 8 ½ to 11 years later, those who scored highest were 59 per cent more likely to have suffered a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) if they had reported experiencing chronic stress caused by problems such as health, money, and relationships.

“There’s such a focus on traditional risk factors—cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, smoking, and so forth—and those are all very important, but studies like this one show that psychological characteristics are equally important,” study author Susan Everson-Rose, PhD, MPH, said in the statement.

 

Effects of stress: You have a higher depression risk

Building on previous studies that found chronic stress can prevent the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) scientists conducted studies that found that mice unable to generate new cells in the hippocampus had decreased ability to rebound from stressful episodes and exhibited depression-like symptoms.

The research, based on a series of tests in which mice were placed in stressful situations, was published in Nature in 2011. “I think the findings fit well with the idea that stress can cause depression or that stressful situations can precipitate depression,” study author Heather Cameron, PhD, chief of neuroplasticity at the NIMH told Time.

 

Effects of stress: Your brain shrinks

Anxiety-inducing events including the loss of a home, divorce, or the death of a loved one can reduce grey matter in parts of the medial prefrontal cortex, which handles self-control and emotion, according to Yale University, whose researchers published these findings in 2012 in Biological Psychiatry.

MRI scans of 103 healthy individuals revealed that even recent stressors could cause grey matter reduction. “The accumulation of stressful life events may make it more challenging for these individuals to deal with future stress,” Emily Ansell, assistant professor of psychiatry and study author said in a statement from Yale.

 

How to calm down: Know the effects of stress are reversible

The good news: Research indicates the brain has a natural ability to recover from stress. “Generally speaking, the brain, and especially the hippocampus, has a substantial degree of plasticity, meaning that the brain is quite malleable,” says Chetty. “If a stressor is removed or diminished, then neural stem cells regain their capacity to generate neurons at a normal level.”

 

How to calm down: Exercise

While more research is needed, experts believe that certain healthy activities could offset the stress response and minimize neural damage. “Simple solutions such as physical exercise could potentially prevent or reduce elevations in stress hormones, thereby reducing harm to the brain,” says Chetty.

For example, 30 minutes a day of even just gentle walking can help improve mood and lower stress, says the NIMH.

 

How to calm down: Meditate

While numerous papers have linked meditation to reductions in stress, recent research from Carnegie Mellon University added that these positive effects can be experienced fairly quickly.

A study found that adults aged 18 to 30 who participated in a mindfulness meditation training program for just 25 minutes three days in a row later reported less anxiety during stress-provoking tasks than another group that did not participate in meditation.

 

How to calm down: Sleep

“Sleep is very important in controlling levels of stress hormones,” says Chetty. “Sleep deprivation elevates stress hormones and can have negative impacts on the brain, including the hippocampus.”

Make sure your noggin is getting enough z’s by observing the National Sleep Foundation’s healthy tips, including sticking to a consistent sleep schedule throughout the week; avoiding heavy meals, cigarettes, and alcohol in the evening; and making sure your bedroom is cool (60 to 67 degrees) and free from noise and lights.

Facebook
Twitter
WhatsApp
Pinterest
Reddit
Delicious
LinkedIn
Facebook
Twitter
WhatsApp

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

READ NEXT

10 Hidden Health Dangers You Can’t Ignore

A home invasion is everyone’s worst nightmare. What’s scarier than that: A silent killer hiding inside your body. Lurking inside all of us could be something seriously wrong, a hidden

What Your Hair Reveals About Your Health

Is your hair trying to tell you something about your health? Maybe. Research shows that changes in your hair’s look, texture, or thickness can be signs of underlying health conditions.

7 Dirtiest Things You Touch Every Day

We all know that germs can make us sick — from the cold virus that zaps our energy to bacteria like E. coli or salmonella that throw our stomachs for

7 Serious Diseases Your Pet Could Give You

Unfortunately, you can get more than love from your cute pet. “We don’t live in a sterile world, and the animals that are our pets and companions are not free

The 7 Most Effective Anti-Inflammatory Herbs

It seems like anytime you read about some sort of health issues, inflammation (a defensive mechanism your immune system activates automatically to deal with what it deems to be “foreign

7 Very Surprising Tips to Destroy Belly Fat

Drink Tequila Research from the American Chemical Society has shown that drinking tequila can help you lose weight. Wait, what? The short version is that the agave plant, the thing

6 Medical Reasons You’re Always Tired 

This isn’t the kind of tired you can get over by spending a weekend sleeping or even going on a full week’s vacation on the beach. It’s a deep muscle,

Things You Should Know About Stomach Flu

Nobody likes getting sick, but the stomach flu delivers its own brutal mix of symptoms. When it hits, it can quickly render you nonfunctional and utterly miserable. And what could

6 Things Your Dentist NEVER Puts in His Mouth

Taking steps to a healthy smile and teeth could be as easy as avoiding putting certain things in our mouths. Dentists see countless patients each year who broke teeth because

6 Common Symptoms of a Fatty Liver Disease

The role of the liver in your body is crucial, as it eliminates accumulates toxins through the urine and feces in the form of waste. So, since we are continually

RELATED POSTS

Scroll to Top