The actual effects of stress on the brain have not yet been unraveled completely. What we do know as of now, is that it can cause long-lasting damage to our body, mind and our moods….
Stress has become a very integral part of our lives. So much so that, we hardly ever realize that we are stressed, until the tension begins to erupt in the form of physical health problems. It may start as a simple headache or stomach upset and may progress to fever and even cause a heart attack or stroke. How is it that stress can cause such levels of collateral damage within our body, even though we try to ignore it? It seems to have a lot to do with the human brain and how stress affects it.
Long Term Effects of Stress on the Brain
Damages Brain Cells
Stress releases the hormone glucocorticoid in the brain which gradually weakens the brain cells, and eventually kills them. Adrenaline is released during stress, which makes us agitated and confused. When this adrenaline is not expended, it can result in excess production of glucocorticoids. In a recent study conducted on lab rats, the following results were revealed. While testing the animals, a high level of GC caused the animal’s brain cells to die. The likelihood of similar results to show up in humans, is high;y probable if the stress is allowed to persist over a prolonged period of time.
Excess Stress Weakens Memory
A prolonged increase in the levels of glucocorticoids, weakens the memory, by making it difficult for older nerve endings to connect with new brain cells. It also makes it increasingly difficult to transmit information back and forth, thereby causing short-term memory loss. This is one of the reasons, which induces the onset of dementia and Alzheimer in people.
Shrinking the Brain
Stress takes a toll on the brain, thereby causing the hippocampus region to shrink over a period of time. This condition is more often noticed in victims of trauma and violence. This shrinking of the brain, makes it difficult for people to focus and remember facts. It also compromises with their motor skills and makes it hard for people to plan ahead.
Clamping of Nerves
Stress can drastically reduce the circulation of blood in the brain, thereby increasing the chances of suffering a stroke. The nerves and veins begin to shrink or clamp together, obstructing the supply of blood, oxygen and nutrition to the brain, delaying the brain’s ability to heal itself faster.
Increases the Risk of Heart Attacks
Since insufficient blood is being circulated to the brain while suffering from stress, less blood reaches the heart for re-pumping. This can seriously jeopardize the balance of the heart, depriving it of oxygen and blood. Since the brain consumes 20% of the total oxygen needed by the body, if the brain is left hungry for oxygen, the rest of the body too will starve! This will in turn cause palpitations, and suffocation in the lungs, making it difficult for us to breathe. Many people who endure stress suffer from palpitations and many other diseases caused by stress. Some suffer on a regular basis, which causes them to even faint after getting angry or upset.
Stress severely affects the release of endorphins or the feel good hormone, thereby making us feel low and upset most of the time. It can lead to manic depression, where the individual loses hope and finds everything going against his favor. The second reason is that stress causes the levels of cortisol to increase in the brain, which has its way of affecting the overall metabolism, thereby making depressed people prone to inactivity and lethargy.
The only way to reduce the effects of stress on the brain, is to deal with the very issues which are causing you to become tensed. Leading an active and healthy lifestyle will ensure that the entire body receives a surge of positive energy, glucose, and endorphins. You will gradually begin to feel much calmer once you learn to expend all the excess energy through exercising, meditating, and indulging in other recreational activities, which make you feel happier.