We all know stress isn’t good for us. It can make the best of us crabby, weepy and more. But did you know it’s bad for your brain? Many studies have been done around this topic and let’s just say… the results aren’t pretty.
4 ways chronic stress negatively impacts your brain
1. Chronic stress shrinks your brain 1.
Stress has been shown to reduce the size of your brain. It specifically shrinks the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for behavior, decision making, social interactions, judgment and concentration. Additionally, stress makes it so there is a loss of synaptic connections in the frontal lobe and also prevents brain cells from being made. This makes it harder to learn and remember what you’ve learned.
2. Stress affects learning and memory 2.
As previously mentioned, stress makes it difficult to learn. This is because cortisol (the stress hormone) released in high levels over time (aka stress) deteriorates electrical signals in the hippocampus which is responsible for learning and memory. More specifically, stress can make it difficult to turn short term memories into long term memories
3. Stress changes the structure of your brain 1.
As strange as it sounds, stress can make you feel even more stressed out. This is because stress can enlarge the amygdala- the part of the brain responsible for your fear response. (Think seeing a mountain lion in the wild). Moreover, stress weakens hypothalamus pituitary adrenal gland (HPA) activity. The interactions between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and adrenal glands produce cortisol. The more the HPA axis weakens by constant stress, the more difficult it can be to turn this response off and thereby control your stress levels in the future.
4. Stress can make you more susceptible to mental illness 3.
Chronic stress impacts neurochemicals in the brain like serotonin which helps regulate mood and impacts the hippocampus which also helps regulate neuroendocrine regulation of stress hormones.
On another note, studies show that lack of sleep can increase your likelihood of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. Chronic stress can make it more difficult for your brain to follow your circadian rhythm which negatively impacts your sleep cycle.
“Great” you’re thinking. Now I have to be stressed about being stressed?? Don’t start worrying yet. The good news is the brain has a lot of plasticity and with intentionality it can be changed. It’s possible to rebuild damaged areas in the brain and create new neural pathways with new habits. Here are some things you can do to help prevent and mitigate the effects of stress.
How you can combat the impact of stress on your brain:
Exercise is a very effective way to combat stress. It raises “feel good” hormones and reduces hormones associated with stress like adrenaline and cortisol. Exercising- whether it’s walking, running, lifting weights or outdoor activities can elevate your mood and also reduce anxiety by lowering cortisol levels.
Meditation and breathing exercises have been proven to lessen stress and reduce anxiety. Meditation triggers your body’s relaxation response and continuous practice can help you be more resilient to stress and have an easier time recovering from it.
3. Manage your situation
Take stock of your current situation and understand what parts are worth stressing over and what parts can be set aside. Clearing up your schedule, prioritizing responsibilities and organizing can help manage your current situation and make everyday life less stressful. Sweet Life CBD oils and Sweet Vibes can help you through your day and is a natural and safe way to help you manage stress throughout the day as well.
4. Make your sleep routine a priority
(Unsure how to do this? See our sleep blog for help!)
Make use of natural remedies. Lavender is a calming essential oil before bed and supplements like CBD and CBN can positively impact your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. One of our most loved products- Sweet Dreams- contains all the right ingredients- CBN (the sleep cannabinoid), L-Theanine, Valerian Root and of course CBD to help you out.
5. Reach out for help
Talking about your stress with an understanding and validating person (friend, family, or therapist) can greatly reduce stress and help you discover new and healthy coping mechanisms. Another important aspect is knowing when to ask for help. Whether it’s taking the dog out during the day while you’re away at work or driving you to a doctor's appointment, sometimes we all need help with everyday life.