Your brain’s grey structure is behind all of your thinking, decision making, and computing, but it is only half of your brain puzzle. The other half is white matter, which consists of “axons.” Axons form a network that allows different regions of your brain to communicate and spread information instantaneously. For your brain to work there has to be the right amount of both.
Research has found that prolonged stress causes excess white matter and wiring which in turn obstructs the grey matter ability to think and process information and remember.
Your body releases a stress hormone called “cortisol” when you are under stress as part of the fight or flight response. The stress we live under today causes excess amounts of cortisol to be in your body. This chemical damages our overall health, especially in our brains.
Chronic stress damages your brains stem cells and neurons in your brain and turns them into cells that sheaths the nerve cells. This is what causes cognitive problems. Cortisol also creates an abundance of neurotransmitters glutamate which creates free radicals that attack our brain cells.
Because stress helps us make bad life choices, like poor diet, destructive habits like alcoholism and smoking for coping skills. This, in turn, causes more free radicals to attack your brain cells.
Stress also causes the Amygdala, which controls fear and anxiety to get bigger. This results in feelings of increased fear and anxiety, which also causes stress. This becomes a vicious cycle.
Every day your brain creates new brain cells and stress stops this production and this is now associated with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Excesses of cortisol caused by stress also shrink the part of your brain that stores memories, the hippocampus. It also shrinks the prefrontal cortex part of your brain. This is the part of your brain that negatively impacts our ability to make decisions.
There are ways to combat the effects of stress on your brain. Eating lots of antioxidants rich foods like berries, dark chocolate, and green teas. To increase your good proteins do mild daily exercises like walking or yoga. Meditation is not only a great stress reliever, but it can also keep your brain young by protecting your genetic coding.
Sleep is absolutely crucial to good health, especially the brain. During sleep, 7 or 8 hours is best, your brains repair itself and grow new brain cells and neural connectors. A night of good healthy sleep is like plugging your body into a “health charger”!
Last but not least educate yourself. Be your own health advocate, after all, it is YOUR life that is affected. The general belief is that at some point your brain gives out or slows down and developing Alzheimer’s or dementia is a natural part of aging. WRONG! Generally, poor diet and bad lifestyle choices are what lead to cognitive decline.
The effects of stress on your brain is real. It is never too late to start making positive changes and reverse or prevent cognitive decline.