4 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain

4 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain

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Stress is a familiar and common part of daily life. Stress occurs each and every day and comes in a wide variety of forms. It might be the stress of trying to juggle family, work, and school commitments. It might involve issues like health, money, and relationships.

In each instance where we face a potential threat, our minds and bodies go into action, mobilizing to either deal with the issues (fight) or avoid the problem (flight).

You have probably heard all about how bad stress is for your mind and body. It can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and chest pain. It can produce mood problems such as anxiety or sadness.

Chronic Stress Increases the Risk of Mental Illness

Stress might play a role in the development of mental disorders such as depression and various emotional disorders. These changes, they suggest, might help explain why those who experience chronic stress are also more prone to mood and anxiety disorders later on in life.

Stress Changes the Brain’s Structure

The brain is made up of neurons and support cells, known as “gray matter” responsible for higher-order thinking such as decision-making and problem-solving. But the brain also contains what is known as “white matter,” which is made up of all the axons that connect with other regions of the brain to communicate information. White matter is so named due to the fatty, white sheath known as myelin that surrounds the axons that speed up the electrical signals used to communicate information throughout the brain.

Stress Kills Brain Cells

The hippocampus is one of the regions of the brain heavily associated with memory, emotion, and learning. It is also one of the two areas of the brain where neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells, happens throughout life.

Stress Shrinks the Brain

Even among otherwise healthy people, stress can lead to shrinkage in areas of the brain associated with the regulation of emotions, metabolism, and memory.

While people often associate negative outcomes to sudden, intense stress created by life-altering events (such as a natural disaster, car accident, death of a loved one), researchers actually suggest that it is the everyday stress that we all seem to face that, over time, can contribute to a wide range of mental disorders.