Stress Found to Shrink Important Regions of the Brain

Stress Found to Shrink Important Regions of the Brain

stress levelsAre you living a stressful life? Although long unrecognized as being a factor in quality of health, it is now widely accepted and proven that stress plays a pivotal role. Research is continuously being conducted in the realm of stress and it’s implications on the body, with one study performed earlier this year finding that stress may actually cause important parts of the brain to shrink.

Not everyone can actually see what’s going on in the brain while under any given circumstance, but researchers at Yale University noticed something concerning when stress was involved. They observed reductions in the amount of ‘gray matter’ in parts of the brain which are responsible for physiological and emotional functioning. Needless to say, the changes weren’t positive ones.

“The accumulation of stressful life events may make it more challenging for these individuals to deal with future stress, particularly if the next demanding event requires effortful control, emotion regulation, or integrated social processing to overcome it,” said Emily Ansell, assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study.

For the study, Yale researchers asked 100 healthy individuals various questions regarding traumatic experiences. Using magnetic resonance imaging scans while participants answered those questions, the researchers were able to observe brain alterations.

“They found that even the brains of subjects who had only recently experienced a stressful life event showed markedly lower gray matter in portions of the … area of the brain that regulates not only emotions and self-control, but physiological functions such as blood pressure and glucose levels,” says the press release.

So what can one do to reduce stress and prevent these brain changes from occurring? Unfortunately, some primary causes of stress are seen as uncontrollable, such as society, the government, or an unstable family. But there really are ways to steer clear of stress – at least partially.

Here are 3 powerful solutions anyone can try by themselves.

  • Re-frame – The art of re-framing is an extremely valuable tool to feel better about any ‘negative’ event that happens in your life. To re-frame is to view something in a different or new light. Most negative events have the potential to be re-framed into a positive outlook. Rather than thinking about the negative aspect of an occurrence, re-frame the situation and think of any way this could result in a positive outcome. Re-framing applies to every single event and action that occurs, whether it be a flat tire, a mistake made in your business, or a problem with your spouse.
  • Exercise – Exercise can be a fantastic method of ‘working off’ stress and leading to a higher state of relaxation. For some people, working out with extreme intensity is the perfect way to make those dopamine hormones (feel-good hormones) come out, while a simple walk in the park may be the solution for others. Not only can exercise reduce stress, but it also comes with life-extending benefits. Just 15 minutes of exercise per day can add 3 years to your lifespan — directly combating the life-shortening effects of stress.
  • Feel Just a Little Better – When feeling stressed or just really bad in general, the goal should not be to feel exuberant, but just a little bit better. Paying close attention to thoughts and feelings is one of the best techniques on how to destress and enjoy life as you should always be doing. If you feel doubt, try to feel just a little bit better by being hopeful. If you feel frustration, give yourself a chance to feel optimism. Moving up the emotional scale is probably one of the most important things you have to do every day.

Additional Sources:

CBS Local