Friday, June 2, 2023

What Stress Does To Your Brain

Fatigue Due To Stress Can Lead To Neglect Of Responsibilities

How stress affects your brain – Madhumita Murgia

Being under constant stress can drain your energy reserves and turn a healthy brain into a disorganized, frazzled one. Work-related stress, specifically, can cause increased fatigue, especially among women. When we feel exhausted, we can easily let our health, exercise routine, and other responsibilities slip since stress just zaps our energy.

Not to mention, feeling tired due to stress can harm your brain because it inhibits cognitive functioning. If you have symptoms of stress, such as constant exhaustion, allow yourself some self-care time to restore your mind, body, and soul.

Stress Contributes To Brain Inflammation And Depression

A little-known fact: the brain has its own immune system.

Special immune cells called microglia protect the brain and spinal cord from infections and toxins.

Unfortunately, a microglial cell has no on or off switch, so once it is activated, it creates inflammation for the rest of its lifespan.

Chronic stress is one of the factors that increases the risk of activating your microglia, thus producing brain inflammation.

Its generally believed that depression is caused by serotonin deficiency, but theres a growing body of evidence that brain inflammation may be the root cause of depression instead.

This theory is called the cytokine model of depression.

Activated microglia produce cytokines proteins that turn on the inflammation response in the brain.

Cytokine production is linked to depression, including major depressive disorder and increased thoughts of suicide.

Its also associated with anxiety, memory loss, and the inability to concentrate, as well as some serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia, Parkinsons, and Alzheimers.

The Dangers Of Chronic Stress And Excess Cortisol

There are two main kinds of stress acute stress and chronic stress and, surprisingly, not all stress is bad for you.

Good Stress

Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the fight-or-flight response.

Once the threat has passed, your levels of stress hormones return to normal with no long-lasting effects.

Some degree of acute stress is even considered desirable as it primes your brain for peak performance.

Epinephrine and norepinephrine are stress hormones produced on an as-needed basis in moments of extreme arousal.

They help you think and move fast in an emergency.

In the right situation, they can save your life.

They dont linger in the body, dissipating as quickly as they were created.

Cortisol and Bad Stress

Cortisol, on the other hand, streams through your system all day long, and thats what makes it dangerous.

Dr. Pat | Be Brain Fit

Excess cortisol leads to a host of physical health problems including headaches, asthma, immune system dysfunction, weight gain, osteoporosis, digestive disorders, hormone imbalances, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

Cortisol also takes an equally high toll on your mental health by changing the structure and function of your brain.

Read Also: What Is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome

Increased Risk Of Depression Due To An Imbalance Of Brain Chemicals

Among the symptoms of stress, depression may present the most considerable risk in the long-term, as untreated depression can lead to suicide.

While some studies like the one above show that depression can lead to stress, scientists from the National Institute of Mental Health found that stress may pull the trigger first. In mice studies, the ones put under extreme pressure showed less resilience to stress and developed depression-like symptoms. Scientists believe inflammation in the brain, and an imbalance of serotonin and dopamine may cause depression.

Is All Stress Created Equal


While the effect of stress on the brain is well documented, it’s less clear exactly what type of stress will prove damaging and raise the risk of memory problems later in life. Do brain problems occur when you are under a small amount of stress or only when you experience long-term stress?

“That’s a tough question, because stress is a broad term that is used to describe a lot of different things,” says Dr. Ressler. The stress you might experience before you take a test is likely very different from the stress of being involved in a car accident or from a prolonged illness. “Certainly, more stress is likely worse, and long-term stress is generally worse than short-term stress,” says Dr. Ressler.

But there are additional factors that make stress more harmful, he says. In particular:

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Were Wired For Stress

The good news is that stress is completely natural and expected, and our bodies and brains have evolved accordingly to deal with threats.

For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, stress might have meant an immediate threat to ones survival happening upon a wild animal or stepping on a poisonous snake, for example causing the brain to kick the body into high gear to meet that threat.

Upon encountering a stressor, this ancient humans brain would have immediately engaged the adrenal and autonomic nervous systems, which release adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream, which quickly floods the body and prepares it to do what it needs to do to survive.

Specifically, heres how the brain and body respond:

You may have heard this referred to as the fight or flight response. It means that were highly adapted to deal with acute stress because stress management is literally wired into our DNA. Ostensibly, thats a very good thingafter all, here we all are, so it seems it worked out for our ancestors fairly well.

So whats the problem?

While our brains havent really changed much in the last 40-50 thousand years , our lifestyles have changed drastically. Threats from wild animals have become threats of deadlines, traffic, bills, family conflict, and more. These modern stresses arent actually going to eat you alive but your brain doesnt understand that.

Stress Kills Brain Cells And Halts The Production Of New Ones

If youre experiencing chronic stress, it may be quite literally killing your brain. Cortisol produces a surplus of the neurotransmitter glutamate, which creates free radicals that kill brain cells. This would be fine if the brain were able to replace these cells like it should but when youre under chronic stress, it just cant cortisol also halts the production of another neutrotransmitter, brain-derived neurotrophic factor which is integral to the production of new brain cells.

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Leading Causes Of Stress

Stress occurs for a number of reasons. The 2015 Stress in America survey reported that money and work were the top two sources of stress for adults in the United States for the eighth year in a row. Other common contributors included family responsibilities, personal health concerns, health problems affecting the family and the economy.

The study found that women consistently struggle with more stress than men. Millennials and Generation Xers deal with more stress than baby boomers. And those who face discrimination based on characteristics such as race, disability status or LGBT identification struggle with more stress than their counterparts who do not regularly encounter such societal biases.

How Worry Affects Your Whole Being

How stress affects your brain

The expression worried to death has a biochemical basis. Chronic unresolved stress affects every vital organ in the body from shrinking the brain and making us sick and fat to suppressing sleep patterns and aging the heart. Long-term stress can also lead to behavioral and mood issues such as overeating, alcohol abuse and depression.

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Let Us Help Manage & Treat Your Anxiety

Here at StoneRidge Centers, we combine brain science with compassionate care. We know just how taxing anxiety can be on your brain. But we also know that with treatment and support, you can learn to manage anxiety. We created our mental health treatment program for that very reason.

Anxiety doesnt have to take over your life. You dont have to live in fear of the world or constantly worry about potential dangers. We can customize our comprehensive program to meet your needs. Contact us today at 928-583-7799 for a free and confidential conversation about managing your anxiety in a healthy way.


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Ways Chronic Stress Negatively Affects Your Brain

Some brain-related stress symptoms, like memory loss, brain fog, anxiety, and worry, will be obvious to you.

But most of the effects of stress discussed below are behind the scenes.

When stress becomes chronic, it changes your brain function and structure, even down to the level of your DNA.

You wont notice these changes while theyre happening, but you will notice the resulting effects eventually.

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What Is The Stress Response System

Imagine how you would feel if you encountered a bear in the woods. Your heart might start racing and you might start breathing heavily. You might freeze in place, unable to move out of fear. You might feel the urge to run away. These are all symptoms of stress. Stress is the mental and physical state humans feel when they experience something difficult or threatening. Stress can come from many different sources. Normal stressors are things that make you feel nervous or scared for a short time, like talking in front of a large group of people. Bigger, long-lasting stressors make you feel sad or scared for a long time. The death of a close family member is one example. The good news is that your brain is a superhero! Every day it keeps you safe from too much stress.

Reducing Your Stress Levels

How to Train Your Brain To Avoid Anxiety

If youre concerned about the effects of chronic stress in your life, you probably should be many people experience chronic stress and feel the effects of it. But there are things you can do to reduce the impact of chronic stress on your brain and body.

First, make sure you eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods fresh fruits and leafy green vegetables, dark chocolate, even green tea is rich in antioxidants.

You can also give your neurotransmitters a boost by getting daily physical exercise even a 20-minute walk each day can make a difference. While youre at it, you can incorporate mindfulness exercises into your physical exercise routine studies have shown that these kinds of exercises reduce stress significantly.

Managing stress well can mean the difference between a healthier life and a life spent plagued with illness and cognitive impairment. Its in your best interest to learn to manage your stress in positive ways.

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Video: Basics Of Farm Stress

All of these outcomes and impacts of short-term stress have been known for decades. But, perhaps the more critical concern is the impact of chronic stress on our ability to think clearly and make good decisions. Stress hormones have a negative impact on the part of our brain that we need for:

  • Evaluating alternatives and making good business decisions
  • Having productive and thoughtful conversations with our family members, community members and others whose help we might need as we move forward during challenging times

These physical health, brain function, and decision making impairments often create a vicious cycle. When we find it difficult to make well-thought-through decisions and to move forward, sometimes this can lead to choices that might have less than desirable outcomes. A poorly contemplated decision can cause even more stress which further fuels this response. This cycle can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and other concerns, which then in turn may also be connected to depression and the risk of suicide. Fortunately, all these changes that occur under high stress can be managed and reversed, though it takes multiple tactics and strategies to tackle the issue holistically.

Caring For Your Brain During Stressful Times

What was I going to say?Im not getting anything doneI keep forgetting what I was going to doI keep losing my temper.

Sound familiar? You are not alone. Many of us are having trouble concentrating, forgetting things we were going to do, walking around in a fog or ignoring the projects we wanted to tackle while social distancing during this coronavirus pandemic. So, what is going on?

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How Stress Bothers Your Brain & Body

Stress hormones are somewhat like blood sugar. Our brain needs just the right level to function: too low and the brain gets too tired too high and the brain gets inflamed and damaged. The same is true for stress hormones. Too high and it can cause inflammation too low and it can lead to depression. The right level is biochemically good for the brain.

Stress hormones go by various names, such as cortisol, corticosteroids, glucocorticoids, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and many others. For our purposes in this article, well mainly discuss the stress hormone cortisol, because its the most common and best known, but know that its really not accurate to blame all of our stress responses, and their consequences, on this one hormone.

Increased Occurrence Of Headaches

How does your brain responds to stress | Stress Management

When you feel overly stressed, you probably have a million thoughts going through your head. Keep in mind that stress first happens in the brain, and the body simply responds to it. If you have a lot of negative thoughts due to stress, you might notice an increased occurrence of headaches. Occasional headaches dont pose much of a threat, but if you start having them daily, you might want to see a doctor.

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Why Stress Can Be Damaging For Your Brain Health

It might seem obvious that stress is bad for your health after all, who hasnt had a tough day at work, and left feeling run down? But stress can also be bad for your brain, in terms of both mental and cognitive health. Chronic stress can result in changes to nerve structure, and even nerve death. Stress may therefore accelerate the process of brain degeneration that eventually leads to dementia, including Alzheimers disease.In one study, there was a 65% increased risk of developing dementia from high stress levels1.

You Can Change How You React

  • Stress is a fact of life. You cant change it, but you can change how you react to stress. Here are three ways you can practice training your body to reset its stress response:
  • Recognize it
  • The first part, and often hardest part of dealing with stress is simply recognizing consciously that its there. Often, we unconsciously run from stress before we even have a chance to deal with it, often in less than healthy ways. But instead of running away or avoiding it, what about just looking at it? By stopping and just recognizing oh, this is stressful can go a long way towards diffusing the situation.

  • Feel the body
  • When we feel stress, we often carry it in our bodies. If you could do a mental inventory the moment youre under stress, youre likely to notice tense, raised shoulders, a tight belly and jaw, or various aches and pains. Everyone is different, and stress presents differently for everyone. But paying attention to where you actually physically feel stress in the body has a tendency to help release it.

  • Change your mindset
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    What Is The Difference Between Stress And Anxiety

    To understand stress as a biological process, it is important to know the difference between stress and anxiety.

    Stress is a physical change that takes place in the body. It occurs because of different stress factors. Examples of stress factors include meeting new people or being physically threatened. Stress can be measured by measuring changes in the levels of stress-related hormones in the body. These hormones control human behaviour in response to a specific stress factor.

    For example, imagine you are playing laser tag. The game simulates a predator-prey relationship or fighting. You are trying to tag somebody while trying to avoid being tagged yourself. This triggers your “fight or flight” response. When playing the game, you will naturally become stressed. Your stress hormone levels will go up, causing you to be more alert and active. In this case, stress is beneficial. But having a constant increase in stress levels can actually lead to depression and mental health issues. Thats why it is important to know the different types of stress.

    Anxiety is a feeling of unease, or of being overwhelmed. It usually results from being afraid of something. For example, it is common to feel anxious about an upcoming test because you are afraid of failing or doing poorly. Anxiety is a negative feeling in response to stress.

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    Could Stress Be Shrinking Your Brain?

    At the same time, the hormone control system becomes hypersensitive to other stresses, especially unpredictable or especially severe stresses. The control system learns to overreact to everything other than the stress to which it has habituated. Now, the damaging effect of too much glucocorticoid becomes pervasive, both for the body and brain.

    Whether the brain learns stress-coping strategies depends on the conscious override of hyperactive responses to stress, because the neural system that operates our emotions, the limbic system, also regulates the glucocorticoid control system. We can not only reduce excessive glucocorticoid but also teach our brain better ways to deal with stress by doing the following:

    • Simplify and organize our life
    • Do one thing at a time and finish it
    • Find pleasure in the little things
    • Learn to have a more positive attitude
    • Laugh and be happy
    • Develop supportive social relations
    • Reduce exposure to stressors

    Excessive stress is a special problem in children. First, growing up is usually stressful, because of school and complex social experiences. Children are just beginning life’s journey of learning how to cope with stress. For that reason, I produced a YouTube video to help school children learn about stress and how to deal with it.


    Herman, James P. . Neural control of chronic stress adaptation. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. August 8. Doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2013.00061

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