How Stress Affects Your Brain
Written By: Gayle Horton
Each trauma in life that occurs will have a negative effect on your brain and impair your ability to function over time.
Some life events like a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a loved one may cause changes in your brain function, but even temporary life events, such as an auto accident or job loss affect our emotional awareness. If you add up all of the annoying things that drive you crazy every day, you would be surprised at the damage that you are causing to your brain’s ability to learn and remember.
As science gains greater insight into the consequences of stress on the brain, the results are not good. A chronic reaction to stress overloads the brain with powerful hormones that our body manufactures to help absorb the short-term emergency situations. When your stress levels do not change over long periods of time eventually you will cause damage to your brain cells.
When researchers analyze brain scans they can distinguish how different types of stress affect different regions of the brain. As these regions begin to shrink, we will tend to lose touch with our emotions, and we will act in inappropriate ways with other people. The mood centers in our brain will also severely distort our ability to regulate pain and pleasure.
Chronic stress can contribute to the brain shrinking gradually as we continue to push through every day, trying to meet deadlines, or manage work and family life. A sudden significant traumatic event will affect our ability to cope, and over time all of these traumatic events will impair our thinking while our brain is deteriorating. However, anything that puts high demands on you, or forces you to adjust, can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.
It is important to understand what causes your stress. Maybe you can begin to reverse these effects because you are now more aware. Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that only compound the problem. You might drink too much to unwind at the end of a stressful day, maybe you eat junk food and zone out in front of the TV or computer for hours, perhaps you use pills to relax, or you relieve your stress by lashing out at your children or other people. However, there are many healthier ways to cope with stress and its symptoms.
Relieving stress through exercise or meditation is an important way to diffuse some of the potentially harmful effects stress can have on your brain. Maintaining strong family and social relationships can also help you see the appropriate perception of events or experiences that may be too overwhelming for you to handle on our own. You may also need to seek professional help to set healthy boundaries as you learn to balance your stress levels.
Once you have mastered these core skills you will have the confidence to face stressful challenges, knowing that you will have the power to set healthy boundaries and bring yourself back into a healthy balance.