OK, it’s time to get down to business.
I’m going to do my best to leave out as much of the science jargon as possible because having a degree, masters or doctorate should not be required when reading a blog post.
Back in 2014, research reconfirmed just how damaging chronic stress is to the brain.
Chronic stress is the type of stress which grinds you down day, after day, week after week, year after year...
Unfortunately, because it’s always there it’s also something we end up getting used to (and forgetting about).
While, you may have forgotten that you’re stressed your brain hasn’t and will have been attempting to cope behind the scenes.
Our brains are made up of two different substances - grey matter and white matter.
Grey matter is the part which is responsible for all of the ‘higher order functions’ e.g., thinking, processing information and decision making.
White matter ‘runs’ the network of connections that enables communication between the different parts of your brain.
When you’re stressed there is a build-up of white matter and so your brain does a bit of trimming (synaptic pruning) to try and keep effective lines of communication open.
It’s kind of like an organisation restructure - and we know how these can sometimes go wrong...
Cortisol (the main hormone produced when we’re stressed) creates a ‘domino effect’ which hardwires certain pathways (connections) between your hippocampus (the part of the brain which is key to transferring information from your short-term memory to the long-term memory) and the amygdala (the part of the brain which processes memories, decision-making and emotional reactions to things).
Now, when this happens you end up in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’.
There’s no shut off.
Your body is constantly packed full of hormones dedicated to running away from, or going all primal on, a lion, dinosaur or the other ‘ugg’ coming to steal your food.
The other thing that happens is that chronic stress also has an ability to ‘flip a switch’ in the stem cells in your brain which stops connections from other parts of your brain to the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain which looks after your executive function [where you determine good & bad, consequences, working towards a goal], your personality, your ability to make complex decisions, and being able to moderate your social behaviours) and so this not only slows down your ability to learn and remember things it also interferes with your ability to act and function in a socially acceptable way.
Hence, the moodiness, snappiness, and very odd behaviour when you’re out which has nothing to do with alcohol...
There’s even research showing that stress also kills brain cells you had which were doing all your learning and remembering.
So, not only can you not make new connections your stressed out brain also kills off your cells which were dedicated to doing these important things...
Even worse this same switch also builds strong and solid connections to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s bad huh?
It literally stops your brain from working.
Stress even goes so far as to shrink your brain.
If you are struggling to do things you’ve always done then you probably are stressed.
The science shows it.
Stress is super dangerous.
If you can’t think, concentrate, learn or remember you will struggle to do anything in life.
It’s these traits we notice first in people who have Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
I’ve just compared stress to Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
What’s going on in your brain is the same.
The only difference is - you can reverse the issues.
You literally have the power to turn back time.
Your brain is amazing.
It can rebuild and rewire so you can get back to being you again.
When someone says stress isn’t that bad please let them know it literally kills your brain.
& on that happy note I’ll see you again next week!
Best wishes, Katie.
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Please Note: This post was first featured on the Huffington Post