Stress: The Endless Pressures on the Brain

A common factor that unites all people is experiencing stress. Stress is the way that our bodies react to various situations including pressure, threats, challenges, or barriers. All individuals experience this in some form in their work, home, or school settings, some to a greater degree than others. We live in a world where we often encourage those around us to do more, work harder and longer, and essentially take on more stressors. This is a very dangerous situation, as stress can be very harmful to our brains.

There are numerous impacts that prolonged stress can have on our brains. When a stressor is present, the body has several physical reactions, including increased heart rate, sweating, raised levels of epinephrine, and constricted blood vessels. In our brains, a signaling pathway is activated involving the hippocampus and pituitary gland which results in the release of the hormone glucocorticoid, a stress hormone. This hormone is generally regulated by the body, released in fixed amounts when we wake up and is necessary for our body to operate. However, when stress is chronic and the brain pathway is activated excessively, glucocorticoids can inhibit growth, bone formation, and the immune response. They are linked to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, destroying neurons, impairing memory, and slowing down cognitive function.

As stress is faced recurrently, the brain learns to acclimate to the body being in constant states of elevated tension and anxiety. The circuitry of neurons and connections of synapses changes to adapt to the higher levels of glucocorticoids. Additionally, people exposed to more stress noted to have a larger amygdala in the brain, which is the region responsible for processing threatening and emotional situations. A larger amygdala indicates that the individual is more susceptible to stressors and is unable to recover from them well. Finally, such individuals were also seen to have a smaller hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, both responsible for decision making and rational thinking.

It is evident that the stressful lifestyles that many of us live can have a severe adverse impact on our brains and health, most invisible to the eye but nevertheless perilous. Instead of endorsing demanding lives and tiring jobs, which can have negative consequences, we should be inspiring people to learn how to relax and take time for themselves. People should be urged to engage in activities such as meditation, pursue hobbies, spending time with loved ones, and give their brains a break from the stressors and anxiety that are continuously causing pressure.

If you or someone you know is suffering from excessive stress and/or mental illness, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit http://www.counselingpsychotherapynjny.com/.

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