Here's How Stress Affects Your Brain

At some point in each and every one of our lives, we've experienced some degree of stress. Though some people experience stress more frequently and severely than others, there's no doubt that stress can damage cognitive function and high levels of anxiety can quite literally reshape your brain.

While stress can silently take significant tolls on all our bodies, there are a variety of ways to alleviate and get rid of it, including: exercising, reading, meditating, writing, listening to (or playing) classical music, and even chewing gum. Getting rid of stress can be a different process for every body and every mind, so while yoga may work really well for one person, it's very likely that another person will swear by reading.

According to Ted-Ed's latest video, stress isn't actually always a bad thing. Small amounts of stress can be useful for a little extra energy and focus, like during a run or a public speaking situation. But chronic stress that doesn't go away no matter what you try to do for relief can have serious affects on brain structure, starting right down from the DNA. Here is a guide for how stress words and how too much of it can ultimately affect your brain:

1. When Your Brain Detects A Stressful Situation, It Immediately Releases A Hormone Called Cortisol

Cortisol prepares your body for instant action and can give you the extra energy boost mentioned above.

2. However, If Too Much Cortisol Is Released Over Time, Your Body Suffers

High levels of cortisol activate your brains amygdala, also known as the fear center. While this is happening, the cortisol decreases the functionality in your hippocampus, the part of your brain which controls learning, memory, and stress control.

3. As Cortisol Wreaks Havoc On Your Hippocampus, Your Brain Also Shrinks In Size

The shrinking of your pre-frontal cortex, the part of your brain that controls concentration, decision making, judgement, and social interaction occurs with too much cortisol, meaning these functions become compromised and weaker.

4. And, As Your Brain Shrinks In Size, Fewer New Brain Cells Are Generated

Which means it will be harder for you to learn and remember information.

5. And Having Fewer Brain Cells Can Lead To Other Illnesses Like Depression, And As You Age, Alzheimer's

Which can be more serious and permanent than stress.

Of course, there are ways to reverse the detrimental affects of stress, as noted by the Ted Ed video, and it's important to do things that increase the size of your hippocampus and allow you to remain sharp and aware of your surroundings.

To see the full lesson, check out the video below.

Images: Fotolia; Giphy (5)