How stress hurts the brain
By Grace Marks
Special to the Times
October 25, 2012
W e all have stress in our lives - job stress, school stress, family stress, financial stress, relationship stress, etc. Some of us direct stress outward - project it on other people or things, while some of us direct it inward. We raid the refrigerator or cupboard, or go for something stronger. How we deal with stress can have a huge impact on our health, especially our brain health.
The impact of stress on our health, from the common cold to cancer, has been well documented. Last August, a Yale University study reported that chronic stress can also cause the brain to shrink. Think about the times you were stressed and forgot simple math, your own phone number, or couldn't figure out how to set priorities. Stress is reinforced by specific hormones that circulate through the body and brain. Those stress hormones are bad for brain tissue and actually eat away at it.
Not all stress poses a problem, however. There is good stress - the upcoming vacation or wedding, and neutral stress - being affected by what's happening in the world such as earthquakes and other environmental disasters. However, it's the bad stress, the chronic stress that lingers on and on, that has the biggest impact. Our bodies are designed to combat stress by releasing the stress hormone cortisol.
However, the body is not built to sustain high levels of stress for long periods of time. That's where the brain tissue begins to be affected. So what do we do to keep our brain neurons from shriveling up?
There are many ways to relieve stress through deep breathing, meditation, prayer, or journaling. However, the fastest and most efficient way to dump the cortisol out of your system is through movement. This doesn't necessarily mean going to the gym for hours, although it is a good option. Movement can be anything from dancing, playing with your kids, walking, chopping wood, or playing basketball.
Controlling stress is important for optimizing brain function and to prevent memory loss. Here are some other ways to release stress hormones:
You have to find your own motivation to change anything. If it's not a shrinking brain, then do some brainstorming. Do you want more energy? Do you want to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure? Do you want to be around for your kids or grandkids? Do you want to fit comfortably in your clothes?
Only you know what will get you up and going. Every journey begins with a single step. What do you need to do today to optimize your journey?
Grace Marks, MPH, CPC is a health educator, certified performance coach, workplace trainer, and holistic stress management instructor with Native Empowerment: Solutions for Health and Harmony. If you have any questions or comments, please direct them to Grace@NativeEmpowerment.com or 928-774-1284.