Growing up, one of my mother’s favorite saying is “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and it seemed like the right thing to say each time she needed to motivate my siblings and I to do something seemingly stressful or difficult.
A lot of people have lived their lives believing this phrase so much so that you can easily find a person bragging about how tough work has been and how difficult it has been caring for the kids and plowing through the normal daily activities that they have to engage in.
People get stressed about natural disasters, politics, climate change, and even what football club will win the champion’s league.
All of the above goes to prove that stress can be an almost unavoidable part of our lives and at the same time if you become stressed and you remain so, there is no benefit attached to that kind of lifestyle.
Try to recall the last prolonged stressful situation you had to deal with. In not talking about an event you had to host and for you stressed for about an hour or two, neither am I talking about getting your tooth removed by the dentist that made you keep your mouth open for a few hours. I’m talking about something like caring for a sick patient, doing a high intensity job, or even having to cold with a mean boss for a year or two.
During this stressful period of your life, did you find out challenging to remember things the way you used to, or find out difficult to keep track of your keys or even recall the correct words for a thing?
You probably had concluded at the time that the odds were adding up against you but in reality, there is a scientific explanation for all that you noticed was going wrong with you. Stress is strong enough to physically cause thought brain to shrink.
Did you known that more stress will result to less grey matter?
When you become stressed, what your body does of to release the stress hormone known as cortisol.
If your body releases this hormone in limited quantity it just might not be a bad thing after all because cortisol has the ability to reduce inflammation, reduce blood pressure, and even manage your blood sugar.
During at study carried out at the university of California Berkeley, researchers found out that the lab tests which they exposed to some amount of stress had a pump of cortisol which helped stem cells in their brain blood to become nerve cells. Eventually the rats had an improved mental performance.
However, going through chronic stress events such as working under too much pressure or taking care of a seriously ill family member for a prolonged period of time does not offer you the advantage above.
Over a period of time, if you have an elevated level of cortisol, it may push you further towards things like obesity, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and many other unhealthy lifestyle behaviours. An worse still, there is proof that it takes a toll on the amount of grey matter in your brain.
One board-certified family and emergency medicine doctor in New York City called Dr. Janette Nesheiwat said “High cortisol levels secreted due to stress damage and reduce the volume of the brain and we can see this on scans of the brain.”
Two of the area that get affected area the hippocampus which play a vital role is memory and learning, and also the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for the regulation of thoughts, actions, and emotions, by communicating with other regions of the brain.
In a study that was carried out recently and published online in the journal neurology, some researchers checked the level of cortisol in the blood of 2,231 middle aged people that we’re healthy. The thinking skills and memory of the participants where also assessed as well as pictures of their brains taken.
It was ultimately discovered that the participants who had high levels of cortisol in their blood (especially the women) did very poorly in the memory and cognitive tests. They also appeared to lose brain volume over time.
Director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio and one of the author of the study, Dr. Sudha Seshadri said: “Slightly lower brain volumes and memory performance of the magnitude seen in this study are associated with a higher risk of dementia 10 to 20 years later.”
Another doctor who had observed something similar is Dr. Monica Starkman who works as a faculty psychiatrist at the University of Michigan Medical School. Dr, Monica reportedly noticed similar shrinkage in the brains of patients who were dealing with active Cushing disease. This is a rare condition that is characterized by the production of to much cortisol in the body.
Dr, Monica said “When we used [an] MRI to examine their brains, we found that indeed, the hippocampus was reduced in size compared to norms for human subjects. The hippocampus is important for learning, and we found that scores for learning were associated with the volume of the hippocampus.”
Would this mean that result of these studies prove that our excessively hard working lifestyle that pushes is to stay awake and stress ourselves out by working when we should be resting isn’t worth all the energy? The answer is yes and it’s scary for people who can’t stop being stressed out this much.
Before you begin to panic about your brain shrinking, you must keep in mind that it is still uncertain whether the brain changes is permanent or temporary.
When Doctor Monica’s patients were studied one year after they got treated of the Cushing disease, it was discovered that not only did their blood cortisol level reduce, the volume of their hippocampus also increased. The doctor even noticed that their scores in learning also increased.
It is very possible for a person’s memory level to increase and reducing stress might just be one of the ways to achieve that. However, the only way this speculation can be confirmed is through clinical trials and those have not been done yet.
Staying ahead of your stress
If you do not want your brain shrinking the only thing you can do for now is to reduce and about stress add much as you can. For you to do that, you have to know what stress feels and looks like.
Many of us like to think of stress add something that causes tears and irritability but that isn’t exactly a correct picture.
There are also cognitive signs of stress and they include memory loss, difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and thinking.
You may as well notice some physical symptoms of stress such as joint pain, weight loss, digestive problems, fatigue, headache, and body aches.
If you have experienced any of these signs recently then toy have some work to do on yourself.
1. You should take a walk: As short as a 10 minute walk can be, it just might help you become better prepared for all the work that lies ahead. Walking is an exercise which means it will help with the production of endorphin which which helps to improve concentration, thinking, and your overall mood.
There are reports that exercise helps some people alleviate their anxiety just add effectively as medications do. The best part yet is that engaging in regular aerobic exercises can help you maintain brain size as you grow older.
2. Never underestimate the power of sleep: the population of insomniacs in the world is growing at a very alarming rate and that means more people are getting seriously stressed.
Not being able to sleep increases the level of stress hormones in thier body and that really dangerous thus you need to find a way to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.
3. Eat well: almost every health problem we deal with as humans can be treated or at least managed when we pay attention to the things feed on. Eat healthy food like grains, vegetables, fruits, and other foods that contain complex carbs can that help give you a body of serotonin. Vitamin C is a wonder worker when it comes to lowering cortisol levels so never underestimate the power of chewing a guava or drinking a cup of orange juice.
4. Take good care of your heath: While you may think that stress is usually as a result of the things that go on around you, in reality it is not restricted to that. Internal stressors like diabetes and depression can also contribute to stress. You need to get a thorough medical evaluation and maintain a healthy lifestyle pattern.
5. Do not forget to socialize: When you reach out to your friends and loved ones, as well as when you meet new people, you end up feeling supported. This will make your body produce more oxytocin which will reduce anxiety, reduce perky levels of cortisol, and give you a sense of calm. No wonder is called the feel good hormone.
6. Give your brain the much needed break: you can manage your stress better by engaging in some mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, and even relaxation. Besides, they cost you next to nothing so you have no excuse.