Stress and Your Brain
Most of my clients are very stressed out. I ask them to rate their stress on a 1-10 scale. The typical response is a 7 - 9. Our society is one that supports stressful lifestyles. However, many people do not realize that a stressful situation can be the tipping point leading to poor health or a disease.
First, I want to give common sources of stress and to define it. Then I want to describe stress and the negative impact it can have on your brain. Lastly, I want to give you some tools to manage it. My hope is that you will better understand sources of stress in your life that you may currently overlook and have some resources to handle it.
There are mainly 6 sources of emotional stress:
Health or diagnosis
Career or fulfillment
Spiritual or political
To define something as “stressful” it must contain one or more of the following (1):
It is something that is new to you (that you have not experienced)
It is unpredictable (you have know way of knowing it will occur)
It threatens your ego (your competence as a person is in question)
You have a loss of control (You have little control over the situation)
Stress is so impactful that it can actually decrease the size of the brain (2). It also promotes inflammation and releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin that increase heart rate and constrict blood vessels, including those blood vessels leading to the brain. Chronically, this can lead to diseases like hypertension and even dementia (3). It can impact bodily functions like digestion causing gut disorders like IBS as well as lowering immunity, leading one more prone to infection.
So stress, as well as holding on to your negative emotions, can ultimately lead to disease since it is these emotions that cause the release of stress hormones.
Stress hormones like cortisol, when chronic, also can damage an area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is responsible for our sleep cycle. Evidence is showing a disrupted sleep cycle is an early warning of Alzheimer’s disease (2).
Stress also can release inflammation causing substances, called cytokines. Just one heated argument, such as with a spouse, can elevate inflammation in the body for days. This inflammation then causes the brain to be more sensitive to stress, so that over time less input is needed to trigger a stress response (2). Example: road rage.
Some tools to manage stress:
Take a warm bath at night.
Get a massage.
Watch a funny movie or show.
Listen to relaxing music.
Take a leisurely walk through the park.
Do an activity or hobby that is enjoyable for you.
More activities (advanced)
Be forgiving. Forgiveness is identified as a major predictor of longevity (3).
Have an attitude of gratitude.
Find ways to avoid or minimize any people in your life that always are bringing you down.
Write down all the things you have to do in a list. Focus on completing just one at a time.
Take a nice and relaxing break from whatever project or goal you are working on.
Get that extra hour of sleep. Eight hours per night! Sleeping more can help the body to heal and restore and better cope with stress the next day.
Get to sleep by 10pm. This provides optimal melatonin production = better sleep cycle.
Take B vitamins. Food sources: eggs, salmon, chicken, nuts, rice, hummus, dark leafy greens, lentils.
Take Magnesium. Food sources: halibut, spinach and leafy greens, oat bran, beans.
Sip a relaxing herbal tea.
Take an herbal “adaptogen” formula. Contains ingredients such as Panax ginseng, holy basil, ashwagandha, Rhodiola rosea, and eleuthero.
Take phosphatidylserine, which can help people deal with constant stress.
“Why Isn’t my Brain Working?” by Dr. Datis Kharrazian.
“The Hormone Cure” by Dr. Sara Gotfried.