Our stress impacts our brain dramatically. Stress causes changes in the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. For instance, stress increases adrenaline in our bloodstream resulting in the accumulation of plaques in our blood vessels causing a reduction of diameters in our vessels. Cardiovascular diseases are a common cause of stress because of this.
Stress causes an increase in cortisol production, among many other hormones, which impact our learning and memory areas of the brain, hippocampus. Prolonged exposure to stress causes damage to hippocampal cells, resulting in impairment in learning new skills and retrieving already learned skills.
One thing that needs to be noted here is that the interaction between (simplistically at least) two areas of the brain is critical for stress: Amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Amygdala, an area that is highly involved in processing emotion, and PFC is involved in controlling, decision making, and planning.
With a high level of stress and among individuals who do not have control over their stress, the amygdala is over-responsive and hyperactivated. Hence, they might perceive every single irrelevant thing as anxiety providing. On the other hand, the FC is less active, resulting in a higher level of perceived stress and lack of control over the amygdala and limbic system. The opposite pattern, lower activity of the amygdala, and higher control and activation from PFC are commonly observed among individuals with better control over their emotional responses. We call this EMOTION REGULATION, our ability to control our emotion which relies heavily on the prefrontal cortex.
What to do:
What are the strategies that we can learn from Neuroscience research to improve our mental health and reduce our stress:
Learn about stress management skills that could strengthen your prefrontal cortex function. In NeuroAcer, we have a free guide to help you with this step. We designed a step by step model to strengthen our PFC during controlling stress and making better decisions. We need to help our prefrontal cortex to get stronger and have more control over our emotions.
We devised a 6-step plan for stress management. Make sure to check it out here!
Other things to consider are to control bodily stress responses with:
1. Deep or slow breathing
2. Listening to music
3. Journaling, writing your gratitude list
5. Laughing or crying
6. Creative expression
7. Social connection
Accumulation of stress and bodily responses to stress over an extended period of time can lead to irreversible damage to our vital organs such as the heart and brain.
Make sure you learn strategies to strengthen your PFC to manage your stress and also practice these stress reductions technique frequently!
Head to Neuroacer for more tips and information on stress management!