For years doctors have warned us that prolonged stress can hurt our bodies such as causing high blood pressure and stomach problems. But as neuroscientists learn more about our brains, they’re discovering that stress can diminish brain functioning which in turn shows up in subtle ways in our bodies. Take the quick self evaluation below and ask yourself if any of these are true of you.
- I seem a bit more forgetful. Prolonged stress actually diminishes our memory because it can shrink a key memory center called the hippocampus.
- I don’t feel as motivated as I usually do. A key brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called norepinephrine helps us stay alert and focused in the right amounts. However prolonged stress decreases it which can lessen our motivation.
- Things I once enjoyed seem less enjoyable now. Dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter, activates our pleasure centers so that things such as finishing a task and eating actually feel good. Stress dampens this important chemical which can result in less pleasure from what we normally enjoy.
- I feel more ‘blue’ than I usually do. Again, another neurotransmitter is at play here, serotonin, which regulates mood. As you might expect, stress dampens its availability in the brain. Most depression medicines aim to regulate serotonin in the brain.
So prolonged stress clearly impacts our brains which negatively affects our daily lives. It behooves us to wisely manage it. In a future post I’ll suggest some simple ways to deal with stress.
How many of these indicators were true of you?
What other indicators of stress have you seen in yourself or others?
Have have you effectively dealt with stress?