It’s everywhere. Whether it be school related, family or friends related–it’s always present. It’s an integral part of our lives. We’ve always known that stress has negative effects on our lives, but according to an article written by Alice Park, who has done a fellowship at Harvard University, stress shrinks the brain and lowers our ability to cope with adversity. Yay, even more negative effects of stress!
Researchers have found that even everyday stress can be leading to changes in the brain that make us more susceptible to social and psychological disorders such as depression and addiction.
Professor Rajita Sinha of Yale University School of Medicine and director of the Yale Stress Center has found that stress can cause shrinkage in parts of the brain responsible for emotions and metabolism, even in healthy individuals. Her research has found that it it’s not indiviual traumatic events that have the most impact, but the cumulative effect of a lifetime’s worth of stress that might cause the most dramatic changes in brain volume.
After imaging the brains of one hundred healthy participants who have had stressful events in their lives showed smaller grey matter in the prefrontal cortex. This region is responsible for self-control, emotions and physiological functions.
The prefrontal cortex is known as the “CEO of the brain.” This region is responsible for cognitive analysis and abstract though, and the moderation of acceptable behavior in social interactions.Injury to this region can affect the ability to process information and solve problems, the abilities to concentrate, remember and learn. Damage can also lead to personality changes that lead to impulsive and socially inappropriate behavior, depression and violence.
By further analyzation, Sinha was able to distinguish how different types of stress, such as divorce, death of a loved one, or loss of a job, affect different regions of the brain. Recent events, such as finding out of a medical diagnosis, affect emotional awareness. When this part shrinks, we strat to lose connection with our emotions, and as a result, act inappropriately in interactions with other people.
More serious events, like life traumas, such as living with cancer, affects our mood centers which skews our ability to regulate pleasure and reward. A shrinkage in this area is also linked to depression and other mood disorders.
Lastly, chronic stress, stress we deal with every day doesn’t affect brain volume on its own. This type of stress erodes parts of the brain slowly and gradually.
It’s important to keep in mind that stress can build up and lead to negative results and effects on the brain.
How can we alleviate stress? There are hundreds of things you can do: yoga, exercise, making lists, etc. It’s also important to maintain strong social and emotional relationships because others can help as well.