5 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain

Stress Symptoms, Signs, and Causes — HelpGuide.org

5 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain

Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”

The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid a car accident.

Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges.

It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV.

But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life.

If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself—and improve how you think and feel—by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.

The effects of chronic stress

Your nervous system isn’t very good at distinguishing between emotional and physical threats.

If you’re super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, or a mountain of bills, your body can react just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation.

And the more your emergency stress system is activated, the easier it becomes to trigger, making it harder to shut off.

If you tend to get stressed out frequently, many of us in today’s demanding world, your body may exist in a heightened state of stress most of the time. And that can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body.

It can suppress your immune system, upset your digestive and reproductive systems, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and speed up the aging process.

It can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

Health problems caused or exacerbated by stress include:

  1. Skin conditions, such as eczema
  2. Heart disease
  3. Weight problems
  4. Reproductive issues
  5. Thinking and memory problems

Signs and symptoms of stress overload

The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying

Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Moodiness, irritability, or anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Other mental or emotional health problems

Physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heart rate
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds or flu

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

Causes of stress

The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship. However, anything that puts high demands on you can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.

Of course, not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be internal or self-generated, when you worry excessively about something that may or may not happen, or have irrational, pessimistic thoughts about life.

Finally, what causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that’s stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it.

While some of us are terrified of getting up in front of people to perform or speak, for example, others live for the spotlight. Where one person thrives under pressure and performs best in the face of a tight deadline, another will shut down when work demands escalate.

And while you may enjoy helping to care for your elderly parents, your siblings may find the demands of caretaking overwhelming and stressful.

Common external causes of stress include:

  • Major life changes
  • Work or school
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Being too busy
  • Children and family

Common internal causes of stress include:

  • Pessimism
  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility
  • Negative self-talk
  • Unrealistic expectations / perfectionism
  • All-or-nothing attitude

What’s stressful for you?

Whatever event or situation is stressing you out, there are ways of coping with the problem and regaining your balance. Some of life’s most common sources of stress include:

Stress at work

While some workplace stress is normal, excessive stress can interfere with your productivity and performance, impact your physical and emotional health, and affect your relationships and home life.

It can even determine the difference between success and failure on the job.

Whatever your ambitions or work demands, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress, improve your job satisfaction, and bolster your well-being in and the workplace.

Job loss and unemployment stress

Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve for all that you’ve lost, or feel anxious about what the future holds.

Job loss and unemployment involves a lot of change all at once, which can rock your sense of purpose and self-esteem.

While the stress can seem overwhelming, there are many steps you can take to come this difficult period stronger, more resilient, and with a renewed sense of purpose.

Financial stress

Many of us, from all over the world and from all walks of life, are having to deal with financial stress and uncertainty at this difficult time.

Whether your problems stem from a loss of work, escalating debt, unexpected expenses, or a combination of factors, financial worry is one of the most common stressors in modern life.

But there are ways to get through these tough economic times, ease stress and anxiety, and regain control of your finances.

Caregiver stress

The demands of caregiving can be overwhelming, especially if you feel that you’re in over your head or have little control over the situation.

If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind — eventually leading to burnout.

However, there are plenty of things you can do to rein in the stress of caregiving and regain a sense of balance, joy, and hope in your life.

Grief and loss

Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest stressors. Often, the pain and stress of loss can feel overwhelming.

You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness.

While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.

How much stress is too much?

Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people seem to be able to roll with life’s punches, while others tend to crumble in the face of small obstacles or frustrations. Some people even thrive on the excitement of a high-stress lifestyle.

Factors that influence your stress tolerance level include:

Your support network. A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against stress. When you have people you can count on, life’s pressures don’t seem as overwhelming. On the flip side, the lonelier and more isolated you are, the greater your risk of succumbing to stress.

Your sense of control. If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. On the other hand, if you believe that you have little control over your life—that you’re at the mercy of your environment and circumstances—stress is more ly to knock you off course.

Your attitude and outlook. The way you look at life and its inevitable challenges makes a huge difference in your ability to handle stress. If you’re generally hopeful and optimistic, you’ll be less vulnerable. Stress-hardy people tend to embrace challenges, have a stronger sense of humor, believe in a higher purpose, and accept change as an inevitable part of life.

Your ability to deal with your emotions. If you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or troubled, you’re more ly to become stressed and agitated. Having the ability to identify and deal appropriately with your emotions can increase your tolerance to stress and help you bounce back from adversity.

Your knowledge and preparation. The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less stressful than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.

Improving your ability to handle stress

Get moving. Upping your activity level is one tactic you can employ right now to help relieve stress and start to feel better.

Regular exercise can lift your mood and serve as a distraction from worries, allowing you to break the cycle of negative thoughts that feed stress.

Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, and dancing are particularly effective, especially if you exercise mindfully (focusing your attention on the physical sensations you experience as you move).

Connect to others. The simple act of talking face-to-face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress when you’re feeling agitated or insecure.

Even just a brief exchange of kind words or a friendly look from another human being can help calm and soothe your nervous system. So, spend time with people who improve your mood and don’t let your responsibilities keep you from having a social life.

If you don’t have any close relationships, or your relationships are the source of your stress, make it a priority to build stronger and more satisfying connections.

Engage your senses. Another fast way to relieve stress is by engaging one or more of your senses—sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movement. The key is to find the sensory input that works for you.

Does listening to an uplifting song make you feel calm? Or smelling ground coffee? Or maybe petting an animal works quickly to make you feel centered? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment to find what works best for you.

Learn to relax. You can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, but you can control how much it affects you.

Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing activate the body’s relaxation response, a state of restfulness that is the polar opposite of the stress response.

When practiced regularly, these activities can reduce your everyday stress levels and boost feelings of joy and serenity. They also increase your ability to stay calm and collected under pressure.

Eat a healthy diet. The food you eat can improve or worsen your mood and affect your ability to cope with life’s stressors.

Eating a diet full of processed and convenience food, refined carbohydrates, and sugary snacks can worsen symptoms of stress, while a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help you better cope with life’s ups and downs.

Get your rest. Feeling tired can increase stress by causing you to think irrationally. At the same time, chronic stress can disrupt your sleep. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there are plenty of ways to improve your sleep so you feel less stressed and more productive and emotionally balanced.

Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Lawrence Robinson

Источник: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-symptoms-signs-and-causes.htm

5 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain

Whether you’re stuck in traffic, on a job interview, or on a first date, you’re most ly to experience an unavoidable and toxic degree of stress.

This short-term frustration can evolve into long-term agony, leading to psychological and physical stress yielding the common health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

However, stress affects the entire human body in the most unexpected ways.

A national poll conducted by National Public Radio (NPR) in conjunction with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health found more than one in every four Americans say they had a great deal of stress in the previous month.

Moreover, half of all adults, or more than 115 million people, say they experienced a major stressful event in the past year. However, this poll only captures the stress people are conscious of and not the “hidden” stress that can affect our ability to balance the big and little problems in life.

This cognitive impairment not only deteriorates our mental health but our physical well-being.

Although stress can be a positive force motivating you to perform well and outdo yourself, it can also be a negative force that can become chronic. Stress can weaken your immune response and make you more susceptible to infectious diseases and other ailments. To avoid stress from interfering with your ability to live a normal life, beware of these surprising stress-induced health issues.

1. Shrunken Brain Tissue

Stress can have a significant toll on your mental health. Chronic stress can reduce the amount of tissue in areas of the brain that regulate emotions and self-control. A 2012 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry found stress shrinks the brain and lowers a person’s ability to cope with adversity.

The participants showed smaller gray matter in their brains in the prefrontal cortex — a region that is responsible for self-control, emotions, and physiological functions regulating glucose and insulin levels. However, chronic stress doesn’t affect brain volumes on its own.

This is because chronic stress may wither away parts of the brain gradually, so it’s not noticeable, but it is enough to magnify its effects and compromise our ability to cope.

2. Colds

Your susceptibility to catching a cold significantly increases if you have ongoing psychological stress in your life. Stress has the ability to alter the levels of certain biochemical markers in the body — essential for the immune system — compromising a person’s immune response.

A 2012 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found the immune systems of those who were stressed were less sensitive to cortisol. This allowed a part of the immune reaction, the inflammatory response, to grow and lead to symptoms of a cold.

The inflammatory response feeds off the stress.

3. Memory Loss 

Acute or severe stress can interfere with the brain’s ability to recollect and form new memories. Cortisol affects neurotransmitters by reducing synapses that house short-term memory.

A 1998 study published in the journal Nature found after 30 minutes of being stressed by an electrical shock, rats were unable to remember their way around a maze. When the shock was given two minutes or four hours before going through the maze, the rats had no problem.

The researchers realized when glucocorticoid production was chemically suppressed, there were no stress-induced effects on memory retrieval.

«This effect only lasts for a couple of hours, so that the impairing effect in this case is a temporary impairment of retrieval. The memory is not lost.

It is just inaccessible or less accessible for a period of time,” said James McGaugh, director of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California at Irvine, according to the University of Texas Medical Branch.

4. Premature Labor

Stress can not only affect the ability to get pregnant, but it can increase the risk of going into premature labor. The emotional state of a pregnant mother may affect her unborn child. Maternal stress and anxiety during pregnancy have both immediate and long-term effects on her offspring.

A 2013 study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found inflammation and elevated free cortisol during pregnancy are tied to preterm birth, hypertension, diabetes, preeclampsia, miscarriage, and other adverse outcomes.

High levels of stress during pregnancy for minority and low-income women may help explain higher rates of preterm labor, according to the study.

The cytokine-cortisol feedback cycle limits the production of inflammatory mediators and is what helps everyone control their inflammation. However, the feedback cycle of people with chronic stress stops responding to cortisol because of the consistently high levels of the hormone. This leads to the dysregulation of inflammation and cortisol.

5. Sex Appeal

Stress can not only give you physical and mental fatigue but also kill your sex appeal. The reason why women favor “masculine” men may have less to do with their looks and more to do with their powerful immune systems.

Researchers have found the link between testosterone, immune strength, and attractiveness was most significant in men who have the lowest levels of cortisol, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Nature.

This suggests a man’s high stress levels may interfere with his sex appeal, making him less attractive to women.

The Mi Bella Reina – Beyond Beauty infographic below will help you visualize the triggers of stress, how it affects your health, and what you can do to reduce stress. 

Источник: https://www.medicaldaily.com/effects-stress-5-surprising-stress-related-health-problems-may-shorten-your-lifespan-308512

7 surprising ways stress can affect your body — Thrive

5 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain

Everyone experiences stress, but not everyone experiences it in the same way. While stress may be best known for taking a toll on the mind, sometimes physical symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that your brain is under too much stress.

“Patients come in with real physical symptoms, but they aren’t caused by any illness,” says Loretta Howitt, MD, a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente’s Los Angeles Medical Center. “Stress is the underlying problem that needs to be addressed.”

Whether you have physical symptoms, mental and emotional symptoms, or both, finding healthy ways to manage stress can help you find relief.

Common physical signs of stress

Even if you don’t feel frazzled, your body could be sending you subtle signs that it’s time to address your stress. When in doubt, talk to your doctor to rule out any physical health issues. But if these symptoms sound familiar, it’s possible that stress is to blame:

Dry mouth and trouble swallowing — Stress can slow down the production of saliva, which can cause dry mouth and make it difficult or uncomfortable to swallow.

Hair loss — Hair falls out naturally when the hair follicle moves from the growth cycle to the resting cycle. Stress can disrupt this pattern and cause more follicles to enter the resting cycle at once — leading to increased, more noticeable hair loss.

Upset stomach — Stress can cause gastrointestinal symptoms of all types, including abdominal pain, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.

Muscle aches and pains — Stress can cause your muscles to tense up — and over time, that can lead to pain and soreness in virtually any part of the body. The most common stress-related aches and pains are in the neck, back, and shoulders.

Jaw, ear, or head pain — Many people unconsciously clench their jaws or grind their teeth when they’re under stress, which can cause uncomfortable tightness or soreness.

Lightheadedness and dizziness — Stress can raise your heart rate and cause rapid, shallow breathing, which can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded.

Lack of sexual desire — Over time, stress can disrupt the body’s hormonal balance. Along with decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, irregular menstrual cycles, and missed periods are also common.

Self-care for stress management

Regardless of your symptoms, there are simple things you can do to help keep stress in check. These small acts of self-care can go a long way, and they all have positive mind-body benefits in the moment and over time.

Eat right and stay hydrated
Sounds simple, right? But when you’re stressed, these healthy basics can easily fall by the wayside. Take good care of your mind and body by keeping healthy foods on hand, cutting back on sugar and caffeine, and drinking plenty of water. A few small changes in your daily habits can make a big difference in how you feel.

Prioritize exercise
Physical activity is key to managing stress and improving mental health. And any type of physical activity can help reduce stress. Even better? The positive effects of exercise can be felt immediately, but the stress-relieving benefits become even more noticeable over time.1

Get outside and into nature
Nature is a natural stress remedy. Spending just 20 to 30 minutes in a natural setting can reduce levels of cortisol — the hormone most closely associated with stress — by 20%.2

Explore mindfulness meditation
The practice of mindfulness meditation involves sitting quietly, focusing on your breath, and paying attention to the present moment without drifting into concerns about the past or future.

Mindfulness meditation has become a popular way to manage stress and improve overall well-being — and research suggests that it’s effective.

3 There’s evidence to show that other types of mindfulness activities, such as mindful acceptance, can help protect against stress as well.4

Connect with others
Staying connected with others and keeping relationships strong can help you cope with stress in the moment and become more resilient overall.

Whether you’ve had a bad day or a bad year, reaching out to family and friends can help you through tough times. And the benefits go both ways — the act of supporting someone else can help boost your mood and enhance well-being.

When you can’t be together in person, catching up with family and friends over the phone, video chat, or even with a text is just as beneficial.

Get creative
Studies have shown that spending time doing creative activities can help with stress and boost overall well-being.5 It doesn’t even matter what you do — maybe you’ll break out the paints, write a story, play music, or knit — as long as it’s creative and you enjoy it.

Choose positive ways to cope
Some things alcohol, marijuana, overeating, or smoking may feel temporary fixes. But over time, they can be harmful to your health and cause problems that make stress worse. Developing new, healthier coping strategies can help break this cycle — and provide deeper, longer-lasting relief.

“Try to be aware of how you handle stress so you can make healthier choices,” Dr. Howitt explains. “Consider keeping a journal of your habits, so you can understand your patterns. Make a list of positive actions you can take — calling a friend, going for a walk, or putting on music and dancing.”

Ideally, over time, these healthier alternatives will become your new go-to activities for stress relief.

Finding your path to a less stressed life

Sadly, there’s no magic stress solution that works for everyone. You might have to explore several different stress management tools and techniques before you find what works best for you. Dr.

Howitt suggests taking it one small, manageable step at a time. “Set achievable goals,” she explains.

“Small changes can make a meaningful difference in how you experience stress — both mentally and physically.”

Practicing self-care is always a good idea, but some people need more support. If something still doesn’t feel right — or you have questions about how to manage stress in positive ways — talk to your doctor.

1Kathrin Wunsch et al., “Habitual and Acute Exercise Effects on Salivary Biomarkers in Response to Psychosocial Stress,” Psychoneuroendocrinology, August 2019.

2MaryCarol R. Hunter et al., “Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Salivary Biomarkers,” Frontiers in Psychology, April 4, 2019.

3Madhav Goyal et al., “Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” JAMA Internal Medicine, March 2014.

4Brian Chin et al., “Psychological Mechanisms Driving Stress Resilience in Mindfulness Training: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Health Psychology, August 2019.

5“Getting Creative Really Does Boost Your Mood, Survey Suggests,” BBC News, May 8, 2019.

Источник: https://thrive.kaiserpermanente.org/thrive-together/live-well/7-surprising-ways-stress-can-affect-your-body

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