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Your Stressed-Out Brain

There are some people who will tell you that they thrive in stressful environments. Stress pushes them to succeed. Others seem to crumble under its power. They are stressed out all the time. So, what is the truth about stress? Do you have a stressed-out brain?

Stress is the body’s response when it faces a threat, whether perceived or real. It causes your heart to pound, and adrenaline to course through your veins muscles tense, ready to act, and your brain is on high alert. This stress response still lingers, and in truth, it’s wreaking havoc.

stressed-out brain

Note: this post contains affiliate links.

The Perceived Threat

You would want your body to respond if you were faced with a shadowy figure in a dark alley when swimming with sharks, or a burglar has found their way into your home. It called the “fight-or-flight” response.

However, the majority of threatening situations we find ourselves in are subjective. While others may find typical work situations difficult to cope with, others won’t. Scientists haven’t yet determined the neural mechanisms that combine the information flooding our senses with prior experience to cause the brain to determine a situation is dangerous.

There are, however, three major parts of the body that control the response – the adrenal glands near the kidneys, and the brain’s pituitary and hypothalamus.

What Happens in the Stressed-Out Brain?

Once the brain has sensed danger, it immediately transmits signals to the adrenal glands, triggering the release of adrenaline. Once adrenaline is released, blood sugar spikes, raising the blood pressure and increasing heart rate.

Then the hypothalamus sends signals to the pituitary gland, triggering the release of hormones. These travel the bloodstream within minutes, producing cortisol.

Cortisol is the hormone that stimulates blood sugar and blood pressure, helping you to escape from the danger. This, of course, isn’t very helpful when the danger is your boss chewing you out, or your toddler throwing a tantrum.

If you would like to know more, you can check out the article at Simply Psychology.

stressed-out brain

The Long-Term Effect of Stress

Our stress response is the perfect response to a short-term event. However, if it continues for weeks (or even years), it can be incredibly damaging. Long-term stress can impact your immune system, affect your blood pressure, weight, and reduce the number of brain cells you have. According to the European Journal of Neuroscience, the long-term effect of stress on the brain includes memory loss.

stressed-out brain

Does Stress Kill Brain Cells?

Yes, and it’s all because of the stress hormone, cortisol. In a study reported by Molecular Psychiatry, giving rats a daily injection of rat cortisol over numerous weeks resulted in the death of brain cells. Stressing the rodents out for the same amount of time every day produced the same effect.

Cortisol damages and kills brain cells in the hippocampus, which is responsible for storing memory. Chronic stress can also cause the brain to age prematurely.

We would die without cortisol, yet too much of it causes severe damage to the brain and leaves you more vulnerable to heart disease, stroke, and stressful events.

Cortisol Excites Brain Cells to Death

When the brain releases cortisol, it travels to the brain and binds to receptors located within neurons. This creates numerous reactions, and while it’s helpful in a life-threatening situation, it causes neurons to fire too often and die. Your brain cells are actually excited to death.

Additionally, WebMD tells us that the link between chronic stress and depression is clear, especially since one of depression’s common features is an excess of cortisol.

stressed-out brain

The Growth of New Brain Cells

The adult brain will produce new neurons, however, in restricted areas. While your brain may make new neurons every day, the number it will produce is limited by the levels of cortisol.

Therefore, high levels of cortisol are actively killing your brain cells, and preventing your brain from replacing them with the levels it would normally. Anti-depressants work to increase serotonin, which contributes to increasing the rate by which neurons are made.

stressed-out brain freedom

Ways to Reduce Stress

Reducing stress levels is key to maintaining a high level of emotional, physical, and mental health. There are many things you can do to keep your stress well managed. The key is to make a deliberate effort and have a plan.

Everyone is different, and so you need to do what works for you, here are 25 stress reducers to try. I have included some suggestions for some that you can find on Amazon. Don’t have Amazon Prime? Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial

1. Avoid stressful situations

2. Exercise, including Tai chi or yoga

Yoga Therapy for Back Pain and Stress Relief.

3. Meditation, self-hypnosis, or guided imagery

Guided Meditation for Relaxation, Stress Relief, and Anxiety

4. Progressive muscle relaxation

The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, Chapter 4

5. Deep breathing

Breathing: the Master Key to Self Healing by Andrew Weil, MD

6. Warm baths

12 Vegan Bath Bombs Gift Set

7. Massage or spa day

Percussion Action Massager with Heat (I have this; not a trip to a spa, but it helps with muscle tension)

8. Aromatherapy, especially lavender and ylang-ylang essential oils induce calm and melt away stress

Lavender and ylang-ylang essential oils; the diffuser we use

9. Take regular breaks

10. Stop multitasking

The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing it All” Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw

11. Delegate

12. Get a hobby that you love

150+ Hobby Ideas Broken Down by Interest and Personality blog post by Hobby Lark

13. Be present

14. Practice mindfulness, which will help you focus on only the present moment

15. Act silly

16. Play a game or work on a puzzle

Starry Night jigsaw puzzle, Pictionary (this could go along with #15), Sudoku

17. Sip chamomile tea

Taylors Organic Chamomile Herbal Tea, the teapot we bought for Christmas

18. Boost your vitamin and mineral intake, including magnesium, as deficiencies induce stress

Magnesium supplement

19. Consider an elimination diet; the food you eat can affect your stress

The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig (this helped me discover intolerances to food and I have lost over 50 pounds so far)

20. Avoid junk food

From Junk Food to Joy Food by Joy Bauer

21. Lower your sugar intake, as sugar spikes blood sugar levels causing you to crash and burn

The Sugar Detox: Lose the Sugar, Lose the Weight by Brooke Alpert and Patricia Farris

22. Cuddle with your pet

23. Go outside into nature and breathe fresh air

24. Connect with others and socialize

25. Learn to say no to avoid overwhelm that leads to stress

Three Friends at Cafe - brain health social

Here are some other posts on stress and anxiety:

Do You Have Anxiety? It Could Be Affecting Your Sleep

7 Rules to Reduce Stress and Improve Sleep

Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack

5 Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Life

7 Healthy Methods of Coping with Chronic Stress

11 Unhealthy Methods of Coping with Chronic Stress

What You Can Do to Limit Chronic Stress and Loss of Cognitive Abilities

Don’t Let Stress Take Away Your Confidence

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