You probably know that chronic stress can affect your health. It can 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. So, what can you do to counter-act stress and maintain brain and body health? Read on!
Six Tips to Lower Stress and Build Resilience
Get some exercise: Studies show that aerobic exercise helps build new neurons and connections in the brain to counteract the effects of stress. Regular exercise also promotes good sleep, reduces depression and boosts self-confidence through the production of endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones.
Relax: Easier than it sounds, right? But relaxation — through meditation, tai chi, yoga, a walk on the beach, or whatever helps to quiet your mind and make you feel more at ease — can decrease blood pressure, respiration rate, metabolism and muscle tension. Getting out into nature can also have a positive, restorative effect on reducing stress and improving cognitive function.
Socialize: Maintaining stimulating social relationships is critical for both mental and physical health. Create a healthy environment, inviting friends, family and even pets to combat stress and exercise all your brains.
Take control: Empowering yourself with a feeling of control over your own situation can help reduce chronic stress and give you the confidence to take control over your brain health. Some videogames and apps based on heart rate variability can be a great way to be proactive and take control of our stress levels.
Have a laugh: We all know from personal experience that a good laugh can make us feel better Even just thinking about something funny can have a positive effect on reducing stress and the damage it causes to your brain.
Think positive: How you think about what stresses you can actually make a difference. Simply changing the way you look at certain situations, taking stock of the positive things in your life and learning to live with gratitude can improve your ability to manage stress and build brain resilience. (Thank you, SharpBrains.com!)