Stress is a very familiar condition for us. It occurs under various circumstances on a daily basis, from struggling to manage familial relationships or fulfilling job deliverables, it is a regular part of our lives today. Either way, it prepares us to face potential threats and deal with the problem at hand, by putting our bodies and mind to action. Stress is a reaction caused by the release of chemicals in the brain. While occasional stress is normal for the body to handle, excess stress hinders the brain’s normalizing processes and seriously impacts brain function in the following ways:
Causes Memory Loss
It often happens that you forget where you left your keys or documents when stressing over how late you’re getting for work. Memory loss is one of the first noticeable signs of stress. It is attributed to a stress hormone called cortisol released by the brain and is a known biomarker for interference with the brain’s capacity to encode memory and retrieve information. When excess cortisol is released into the bloodstream, it impairs the brain’s memory processes and instead enhances emotional memory. This weakens your spatial memory and hinders your ability to recall immediate events.
Kills Brain Cells
Numerous studies show that stress kills brain cells. The hippocampus is a region in the brain responsible for memory, emotions, and formation of new brain cells. When cortisol levels rise to an exponential level, it disturbs the hormonal balance required for the hippocampus to function properly. Chronic stress results in a perpetual state of chemical imbalance, in turn debilitating the production of new brain cells. The hampered productivity of brain neurons in the hippocampus further impairs memory and learning capabilities.
The cells in your brain essentially communicate with each other through chemicals called neurotransmitters. Research reveals that chronic stress disrupts the timing and balance of these chemicals in the hippocampus. With imbalanced chemical levels, the hippocampus is unable to naturally release happy hormones such as serotonin, in order to curb the heightened stress levels. An abnormally low level of serotonin is known to trigger mental illnesses such as depression and other mental and emotional disorders.
Causes Brain Shrinkage
Chronic stress causes a loss of synaptic connections between brain cells. This, in turn, reduces brain mass in the prefrontal cortex – the region associated with regulating the behavior. Everyday anxiety may have little impact on brain volume, but it makes you more vulnerable to brain shrinkage when confronted with intensely traumatic situations.
Alters Brain Structure
Studies show that chronic stress has a significant impact on the brain’s neurons and support cells known as ‘grey matter’ and ‘white matter’. The grey matter of the brain is responsible for functions such as thinking, computing, and decision-making. Whereas, the white matter is associated with neural networks and electrical signal processing between the brain regions. Under chronic stress, both these masses undergo severe changes and create abnormalities in brain function. This increases the likelihood of schizophrenia, autism and other mental diseases.
A little bit of stress can be good for the brain as it mobilizes you to confront potential threats. But when the brain is unable to process its feedback mechanism in order to stop anxiety, chronic stress is created and this is intensely counterproductive. So, be watchful and keep a track on your stress levels to maintain a healthy and stress-free life.