Stress has become a rather normal part of our daily lives, and research has found that overcoming stressful events can actually make us more resilient. But when the stress is severe or chronic, it needs to be treated immediately.
That is because repeated stress can have a massive impact on our brain, making us vulnerable to a number of both physical and psychological problems.
Mood, Cognition, and Behavior
Repeated stress is a key trigger for constant inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to a number of health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease. The brain is usually protected from moving molecules by a blood-brain barrier found close to the pineal gland, but under repeated stress, this barrier becomes leaky, and circulating inflammatory molecules can get into the brain.
Studies in humans have demonstrated that inflammation can negatively affect brain systems and can lead to mood disorders, as well as physical issues, such as irregular menstrual cycles and more.
It is also well established that chronic stress can result in depression, which is a major cause of disability across the world. Chronic stress changes chemicals in the brain, which balance cognition and mood, including serotonin. Sleep and circadian rhythm disruption is a usual feature in numerous psychiatric issues, such as depression and anxiety. However, the restoration of sleep patterns and circadian rhythms are a treatment approach.
So what should you do if you are suffering from chronic stress?
Fortunately, there are ways to address it. We know, for instance, that exercise has standard benefits against chronic stress. Exercise tackles inflammation by leading to an anti-inflammatory response and increases neurogenesis, which is the production of new brain cells in key zones, such as the hippocampus. Exercise also enhances mood, cognition, and physical health.
Another way to address stress involves connecting with people around you, including family, friends, and neighbors. When you are suffering from stress, relaxing and interacting with other people distracts you and helps reduce the feelings of stress.
Learning something new may be a less known method. Education leads to a cognitive reserve – a bunch of thinking abilities – which offers some protection when we encounter negative events. As a matter of fact, we know that people are less prone to suffer from depression and issues in cognition if they have a better cognitive reserve.
Other techniques include mindfulness, which allows us to observe and be curious about the world around us and spend time in the moment. Volunteering or donating to those in need activates the reward system in our brain and welcomes positive feelings about life.
Most importantly, when you face chronic stress, do not wait, and let things get better. Early identification and effective treatment like the ones we mentioned above, is essential to a good outcome and wellbeing. Remember that acting in a holistic manner improves your mood, your thinking, and your physical health.
You don’t have to wait until you feel overwhelmed. Eventually, it is vital that we learn from an early age to keep our brain fit in order to have a good life course.