These days, we all live under considerable stress — economic challenges, job demands, family tensions, always-on technology and the 24-hour news cycle all contribute to ceaseless worry. While many have learned to simply “live with it,” this ongoing stress can, unless properly managed, have a serious negative impact on our ability to think clearly and make good decisions, in the short-term, and even harm our brains in the long-term.
Recent studies show that chronic stress can also lead to depression, and even to a higher risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. Why? Under stress, the brain’s limbic system — responsible for emotions, memory and learning — triggers an alarm that activates the fight-or-flight response, increasing the production of adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol, which work together to speed heart rate, increase metabolism and blood pressure, enhance attention, the immune system and anti-inflammatory response, and lower pain sensitivity — all good things when your very survival is on the line. When the stressful situation is over, the body resets back to normal.
However, under constant stress, the body is unable to reset. High adrenaline and cortisol levels persist, potentially causing blood sugar imbalances and blood pressure problems, and whittling away at muscle tissue, bone density, immunity and inflammatory responses. These events block the formation of new neural connections in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for encoding new memories. When these new connections are blocked, the hippocampus can actually shrink in size, hindering memory. Continue reading.
Originally posted on Sharp Brains.
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