What is stress?

Darryl Bachmeier
Mar 19, 2020

We are always advised to avoid stress, but it is actually a normal part of our lives. Therefore, instead of avoiding stress, it would be useful to learn how to deal with it. It can cause us significant problems, and it triggers our fight or flight reaction. You have to take action unless you want stress to create health problems or worsen the ones you have already.

Stress is most damaging when it is unexpected, prolonged, and uninterrupted. Still, you can find a way to deal with it by seeking support from your loved ones, as well as with regular exercise. Other methods to manage stress are meditation and other relaxation techniques, as well as structured breaks. It helps if you can learn new coping strategies that would create predictability in your life.

Alcohol, drugs, smoking, eating, and pain medicines can worsen the stress and make you more sensitive to future stress. A lack of social support could also make stress unmanageable. There are promising treatments for this, but the management of stress depends mostly on your ability and willingness to make changes for a healthy lifestyle.

There are three types of stress recognized by the American Psychological Association. Acute stress is the most common, and it is short-term. It is caused by dealing with problems that recently occurred or thinking about the ones that are in the near future. Its effects include an upset stomach and headaches, as well as some distress. It is not as harmful as chronic stress, but it could become chronic.

Episodic acute stress is when you often experience acute stress or have frequent triggers of it. This is something that happens to people who have too many commitments but poor organization. It makes them tense and irritable, and it affects their relationships. If you worry too much, you could have this type of stress. It leads to heart disease and high blood pressure.

Chronic stress is the most harmful, and it lasts for a long time. An unhappy marriage, ongoing poverty, or a dysfunctional family could cause it, but it could be caused by a traumatic experience you had as a child as well. It could become a part of your personality, and it occurs when you become used to it. What it leads to are heart attacks, strokes, violent actions, and even suicide.

Here are the effects stress can have on your brain:

Chronic stress could lead to a mental illness

The problem with chronic stress is that it results in long-term changes in your brain. Those changes might be why those who have to deal with chronic stress often have anxiety and mood disorders later in life. It could be what helps develop mental disorders such as various emotional disorders and depression. Stress creates fewer neurons than normal, and it could negatively affect the brain’s hippocampus.

Stress leads to long-term changes in the brain’s structure

Researchers have found out that those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder have brain abnormalities, which include imbalances in white and grey matter. Good stress, however, helps wire your brain in a positive way, for example, when you have a challenge you need to face. Still, chronic stress, on the other hand, messes up your brain, so you become prone to mental illness.

Stress kills brain cells

Stress could kill new neurons in your brain’s hippocampus. It is the region of your brain that has associated with learning, emotion, and memory. Neurogenesis, the formation of new brain cells, happens partly in this part of the brain throughout life. Stress does not affect the formation of new neurons, but it influences whether cells survive.

It could lead to shrinkage in some areas of the brain

Have you heard that stress can actually shrink your brain? Well, it seems you have heard right. It can lead to shrinkage in areas of the brain that are associated with the regulation of metabolism, emotions, and memory. People who are facing intense, traumatic stressors could have brain shrinkage. Those who have had a lot of stress will have trouble dealing with events that require emotional regulation, effortful control, or integrated social processing. There are different kinds of stress, and they all affect our brains in a different way. For example, if you have lost your job, it will affect your emotional awareness, but if you have lost a loved one to an illness, it will affect your mood centers.

It harms your memory

Try to remember a stressful event. It is hard to remember the details of it, isn’t it? It is because stress has an immediate impact on memory. When you are late for work, you cannot remember where you left your car keys. It is because of stress.

Now that you know the effects stress could have on your brain, don’t you wish to live a stress-free life? All of us do, but in modern times, that is not always an option. The best way to protect yourself from stress is to learn how to deal with it and embrace a healthy lifestyle.

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