What is Stress?
Stress begins in the brain. Information is processed by your senses and travels to the brain. The brain interprets these signals and responds. The response can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the type of stress and how long we are exposed to it. The responses are both neurological and physical. Long-term stress can alter nerve structure and function and kill neurons – especially in the hippocampus (short term memory).
Effects of Stress on the Brain
- Cortisol (the stress hormone) follows a daily rhythm stimulating us to wake in the morning and allowing us to function during the day and then sleep at night. Chronic stress can alter the levels and pattern of cortisol secretion.
- Chronic increases in cortisol secretion have been found to:
- Induce neuron loss in the area of the brain important for short-term memory
- Increase inflammation
- Lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression
- Cause high blood pressure and other vascular factors that are related to Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia
- Increase blood sugar, which can lead to insulin resistance and possibly result in brain cells being starved of fuel as glucose is unable to effectively enter cells
- Reduce sleep quantity and quality, which can impair brain function
- Affect gut health, as cortisol suppresses gut immunity
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