How Does Stress Affect Your Brain?

This graphic features a stressed man in a blue shirt sitting at a desk and rubbing his eyes under his glasses.

A Cognitive Connection is a center in Colorado Springs dedicated to helping the people of the community understand why they behave in certain ways. There’s a reason behind every single action you take and every single word you speak. Our brains act with purpose, and we’re here to help you learn how to better understand your brain and discover ways to make it healthy and strong. 

One of the biggest culprits against your brain is stress. Maybe you’re stressed about being a good parent or stressed because you keep procrastinating on an upcoming work assignment. You’ve probably heard before that being stressed isn’t good for your well-being, but did you know that your brain responds to stress with a chemical reaction? In certain situations, being stressed can be a good thing. But suffering from stress for long periods can negatively affect your brain. To help you better understand the behavior between stress and your brain, our team of cognitive experts has gone through some of the ways stress can affect your brain.

6 Effects Of Stress On Brain Function

It’s crucial to understand how stress affects your brain and what’s happening to your body in a high-stress situation. When you become stressed, your body goes through a fight or flight process to determine how to react to the perceived threat. A stressful situation notifies the amygdala, which kickstarts a series of events. During this time, your body produces cortisol, increases its glucose levels, begins to increase the blood flow to your muscles, and your heart begins to beat faster. Once the threat is over, your body will soon resume its normal levels. 

If you suffer from chronic stress, it means that your body is constantly stressed and the amygdala is constantly activated. When this happens, it means that all of those events that take place during a stressful event are happening without your mind and body being able to take a breather. If your cortisol levels are consistently high, it can cause digestive problems, sleeping issues, and a weakened immune system. With one part of your brain being on overdrive, it could also cause your brain to not have enough energy to carry out its other functions. When this happens, it can affect your brain in various ways.

  1. Impairs Memory
    • Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed it’s more difficult to remember things? This is because your brain is in survival mode and going through the fight or flight response; it’s not focused on memory.
  2. Altered Brain Structure
    • Your brain is made up of white matter and grey matter. White matter connects different parts of the brain and enables information to be shared between all of these parts. Grey matter is used when making decisions and solving problems. Studies have shown that under chronic stress, brains overproduce white matter and don’t produce enough grey matter. If severe enough, this can result in permanent changes to the structure of your brain.
  3. Mental Illness
    • If there’s an imbalance in your white matter and grey matter, you’re more susceptible to develop mental illnesses.
  4. Reduced Brain Cells
    • Our brains produce neurons in two places, one of which is the hippocampus. In the past, researchers have found that chronic stress has the ability to kill neurons in the hippocampus.
  5. Brain Size
    • With chronic stress, parts of the brain responsible for emotions, metabolism, and memory have shrunk. Researchers have also found that chronic stress makes brains more likely to shrink when exposed to intense stressors. So, if you’re constantly stressed, your brain will have a harder time dealing with any future stress it experiences. 
  6. Improved Cognitive Function
    • Moderate stress can improve your brain’s performance by strengthening the connections between different neurons. This can help improve cognitive function by improving your memory, lengthening your attention span, and improving your productivity. 

Understand Your Brain With A Cognitive Connection

The more you understand your brain, the better you can protect it and make sure you’re making healthy decisions. At A Cognitive Connection, our team is here to support you and help you not only understand your brain but learn how to make it stronger. No matter what stage you’re at in life, brain function and cognitive abilities should always be a priority. With our various courses and programs, we’ll help you integrate positive brain behaviors into your everyday routine. To learn more about how we can help you and your cognitive abilities, contact us now!

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