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We all deal with stress in various ways in today's busy world. But over time, anxiety symptoms can damage our brain and other facets of health. Biologically, stress activates our fight or flight response initially designed to protect us against immediate threats. However, in our modern world, we have constant stressors that can affect our judgment and cause lasting damage to our health.
According to a survey by the American Psychiatric Association, anxiety and stress levels have reached an all-time high. Among 1,000 American adults asked about their stress and anxiety symptoms,nearly 40% reported an increase in anxiety levels compared to the same period last year.
Another 39% said they felt the same levels of anxiety. And only 19% reported feeling less anxious. People reported concerns with safety, health and finances as their main sources of stress, while politics and personal relationships followed closely behind.
Next, we'll talk about what all this stress can do to your brain. We will also suggest several ways to combat stress so that you can feel your best.
HERE ARE EIGHT SYMPTOMS OF STRESS THAT DAMAGE THE BRAIN:
HIGH LEVELS OF CORTISOL CAN MAKE YOUR BRAIN SHRINK.
According to a study published in Neurology, adults between the ages of 40 and 50 who had higher levels of cortisol showed greater brain shrinkage. The researchers collected brain data from 2,231 participants, of whom 2,018 obtained MRI scans to measure brain volume. The participants measured their cortisol levels in the morning before eating breakfast. The team found that people with higher cortisol levels showed poorer cognitive functioning and brain structure. Women had more noticeable differences in brain structure compared to men with elevated cortisol levels.
Cortisol affects the functioning of many parts of the body, including the brain. Because of this, researchers need to learn how long-term stress can affect a healthy brain, according to lead author Dr. Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui of Harvard Medical School.
“While other studies have looked at cortisol and memory, we believe that our large community-based study is the first to explore, in middle-aged people, fasting blood cortisol levels and brain volume, as well as memory and thinking skills ”.
LEARNING AND MEMORY ARE AFFECTED AS STRESS INTERRUPTS THE NEURONAL TRACKS.
In a study conducted by the University of California at Berkeley, scientists analyzed what happened to the hippocampus of adult rats under chronic stress. Under normal conditions, stem cells in the hippocampus only mature into neurons or a type of glial cell called an astrocyte. However, scientists put rats in stressful situations. They discovered that the stem cells matured into a different type of glial cells called oligodendrocytes.
These cells make myelin to protect nerve cells. In turn, they produce fewer neurons. This cycle leads to excess white matter in the brain. That new white matter disrupts communication and the delicate balance between cells. Ultimately, too much white matter can cause learning and memory problems.
If you have too much white matter in your brain, scientists believe this could play a massive role in the development of mental disorders like PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
HARMFUL EMOTIONAL STATES CAUSED BY STRESS CAN CAUSE CEREBROVASCULAR ACCIDENTS.
Higher stress levels can raise your cholesterol and blood pressure, which can increase your risk of having a stroke. In a study published in the journalStroke of the American Heart Association, More than 6,700 adults between the ages of 45 and 84 completed questionnaires on chronic stress. They answered questions about risk factors such as anger, hostility, and depression over two years. None of the participants had cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study.
After 8.5 to 11 years later,147 people reported having had a stroke and 48 had transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).Compared to the people with the lowest psychological scores, the scientists found that those with the highest scores were:
-86 percent more likely to have a stroke or TIA if they had depression.
-59 percent more likely to have a stroke or TIA if they had chronic stress.
-More than twice as likely to have a stroke or TIA if they had hostility.
-Anger did not significantly increase your risk.
"There is such a large focus on traditional risk factors (cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking, etc.) and they are all very important, but studies like this show that psychological characteristics are equally important," said the lead author of the Susan Everson-Rose study. , Ph.D., MPH, said in the statement.
HIGHER RISK OF DEPRESSION DUE TO AN IMBALANCE OF CHEMICAL SUBSTANCES OF THE BRAIN.
Among the symptoms of stress, depression may pose the greatest long-term risk, as untreated depression can lead to suicide.
While some studies like the one above show that depression can lead to stress, scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health found that stress can pull the trigger first. In studies with mice, those subjected to extreme pressure showed less resistance to stress and developed symptoms similar to depression. Scientists believe that inflammation in the brain and an imbalance of serotonin and dopamine can cause depression.
FATIGUE DUE TO STRESS CAN LEAD TO NEGLECT OF RESPONSIBILITIES.
Being under constant stress can deplete your energy reserves and turn a healthy brain into a disorganized and drained one. Work-related stress, specifically, can cause increased fatigue, especially among women. When we feel exhausted, we can easily let our health, exercise routine, and other responsibilities fade away, as stress simply drains our energy.
Not to mention, feeling tired from stress can damage your brain by inhibiting cognitive functioning. If you have symptoms of stress, such as constant exhaustion, allow yourself some self-care time to restore your mind, body, and soul.
INCREASE IN THE APPEARANCE OF HEADACHES.
When you feel overly stressed, you probably have a million thoughts in your head. Keep in mind that stress occurs first in the brain and the body simply responds to it. If you have a lot of negative thoughts due to stress, you may notice a higher incidence of headaches. Occasional headaches don't pose much of a threat, but if you start to have them on a daily basis, you may want to see a doctor.
INSOMNIA OR EXCESS OF SLEEP.
If you have racing thoughts while trying to sleep, you likely have untreated stressors in your daily life. Among the symptoms of stress, most people would say that not being able to sleep creates the biggest disruption in their lives. To have a healthy brain and body, we need sleep rejuvenation.
However, chronic stress can sometimes cause the opposite problem of falling asleep. People turn to different things to deal with stress, and sleep can often serve to escape responsibilities and challenges. Sleeping too much or too little can damage your brain by upsetting the delicate balance of chemicals in your mind, and this imbalance can cause many of the other symptoms on this list.
In our modern world, many people suffer from both chronic stress and insomnia, and some experts have even called lack of sleep an epidemic. By addressing the stressors in your life, you should see improvements in the quality of your sleep.
MORE PRONE TO NEGATIVE THINKING AND DIFFICULTY TO CONTROL EMOTIONS.
Unfortunately, humans tend to have a negativity bias, which means that we focus more on the negatives in life than the positives. This goes back to our survival instincts because we needed to look for threats to protect ourselves and our tribe. In our modern world, however, this biological adaptation can do more harm than good. Negative thinking is one of the symptoms of stress that can damage our brain because it affects everything else in our lives.
A negative outlook on life only fuels a vicious cycle, because the more we focus on the negative, the less control we have over ourselves and our environment. A 2013 study by neuroscientists found that even mild levels of stress can lead to difficulties controlling emotions.
In the study, the researchers taught participants stress management techniques. However, after the participants had to respond to a mildly stressful event, in this case dipping their hands in ice water, they were unable to calm down after images of snakes and spiders were shown.
"Our results suggest that even mild stress, such as that encountered in daily life, can affect the ability to use known cognitive techniques to control fear and anxiety," said lead author Candace Raio, Ph.D. , in a press release.
FINAL REFLECTIONS ON HOW THE SYMPTOMS OF STRESS DAMAGE THE BRAIN
Stress can damage your brain in a number of ways. It increases your risk of developing mental illness and having a stroke. Plus, it can even cause your brain to contract and affect your ability to learn effectively. Not to mention, it can lead to fatigue, insomnia, and other chronic problems. However, you can combat stress in the following ways:
-Design a period of worry each day and do not allow yourself to stress at any other time.
-Exercise and eat healthy.
-Create a healthy brain by practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga.
-Stay away from those who add stress to your life.