How much damage has stress already caused in your life?
By(bebrainfit.com) – Chronic stress increases the stress hormone cortisol and affects many brain functions, putting you at risk for many mood disorders and other mental issues.
Stress is an unavoidable part of modern life.
There are two main kinds of stress — acute stress and chronic stress — and not all stress is bad for you.
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.
But chronic stress — the kind most of us face day in, day out — is a killer.
90% of doctors’ visits are for stress-related health complaints.
Chronic stress makes you more vulnerable to everything from cancer to the common cold.
The non-stop elevation of stress hormones not only makes your body sick, it negatively impacts your brain as well.
When stress becomes chronic, it changes your brain’s function and even its structure down to the level of your DNA.
The Dangers of Cortisol
Before we look at the many ways chronic stress affects your brain, we need to talk a little bit about stress hormones.
Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine are stress hormones produced on an as needed basis in moments of extreme excitement.
They help you think and move fast in an emergency.
In the right situation, they can save your life.
They don’t linger in the body, dissipating as quickly as they were created.
Cortisol, on the other hand, streams through your system all day long, and that’s what makes it so dangerous.
This stress hormone has been called “public enemy #1.”
Excess cortisol leads to a host of health problems including weight gain, osteoporosis, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Chronic stress takes a toll on adrenal glands.
It can leaving you feeling exhausted and wired but tired.
Weight gain, mood swings, poor sleep, short attention span, and memory issues are common signs of stress due to elevated cortisol.
The Effects of Chronic Stress on Your Brain
While stress and cortisol take a toll on your body, they take an equally high toll on your brain.
Some of these brain-related stress symptoms will be obvious to you, like memory problems, anxiety, and worry.
But most of these effects of stress on your brain are “behind the scenes.”
You don’t notice they’re happening but you will notice the side effects … eventually.
Here are 12 ways chronic stress impacts your brain health and mental well-being along with simple steps you can take to counteract the damage.
1. Stress creates free radicals that kill brain cells.
Cortisol creates a surplus of the neurotransmitter glutamate.
Glutamate creates free radicals — unattached oxygen molecules — that attack brain cells much in the same way that oxygen attacks metal, causing it to rust.
Free radicals actually punch holes in the brain cell walls, causing them to rupture and die.
Stress also indirectly contributes to other lifestyle habits that create more free radicals.
If stress causes you to lose sleep, eat junk food, drink too much alcohol, or smoke cigarettes to relax, these are contributing to your free radical load.
2. Chronic stress makes you forgetful and emotional.
Memory problems may be one of the first signs of stress you’ll notice.
Misplaced keys and forgotten appointments have you scrambling, further adding to your stress.
If you find all this stress is making you more emotional too, there’s a physiological reason for this.
Studies show that when you’re stressed, electrical signals in the brain associated with factual memories weaken while areas in the brain associated with emotions strengthen.
3. Stress creates a vicious cycle of fear and anxiety.
Stress builds up an area of your brain called the amygdala.
This is your brain’s fear center.
Stress increases the size, activity level and number of neural connections in this part of your brain.
This makes you more fearful, causing a vicious cycle of even more fear and stress.
4. Stress halts the production of new brain cells.
Every day you lose brain cells, but every day you have the opportunity to create new ones.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that’s integral in keeping existing brain cells healthy and stimulating new brain cell formation.
It can be thought of as fertilizer for the brain.
BDNF can offset the negative effects of stress on the brain.
But cortisol halts the production of BDNF resulting in fewer new brain cells being formed.
Lowered levels of BDNF are associated with brain-related conditions including depression, OCD, schizophrenia, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
5. Stress depletes critical brain chemicals causing depression.
Your brain cells communicate via chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Chronic stress reduces levels of critical neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and dopamine.
Low levels of either of these neurotransmitters can…
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