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How stress affects the brain


Stress physically changes your brain in many ways. You’ve heard me refer to the brain being plastic? Well, just check this lot out:

Too much white matter (myelin) can develop. In a healthy brain, this provides an insulating electrical sheath enabling nerves to send their signals efficiently. In excess, it over-insulates, slowing down connectivity between different parts of the brain.

The protein, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is slowed down. As BDNF is responsible for the development of new brain cells, this impedes the brain’s functioning and can increase the risk of mental illness, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Levels of dopamine and serotonin, the hormones associated with happiness and wellbeing, drop. In mild cases, this leads to a habitually lowered mood; in more extreme cases, it increases the risk of mental illness and addiction.

The brain’s immune cells (microglia) become overactivated, risking brain inflammation.

The thalamus, which helps create the fear response, becomes habitually overactive.

The sensory cortex sends stronger fear signals to the body, creating physical symptoms such as muscle tension, stomach upsets and restlessness.

The hippocampus shrinks, reducing self-control, memory functioning, and emotional regulation.

The pituitary gland stimulates the adrenal gland in the torso, releasing more of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Remember, your brain is a physical organ, in need of great care.

If you’re under excessive pressure, it’s not a sign of weakness that you’re struggling – there’s just too much going on and you need to take a rest. Please be kind to yourself. You know it makes sense and much better for you in the long run.

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