You can’t avoid it. You can’t escape from it. You know it’s out there waiting for you. It’s stress.
We all have stress in our lives.
Even when something extraordinary happens to us, it creates a certain amount of stress. We have deadlines, lists of things to do, people we have to deal with, and places to go. Consequently, events in our lives create stress in our bodies and stress in our brains.
Stress and Our Brains
Our brains are the center of everything we are and do. It controls our movements and our emotions.
So it’s essential to keep the brain healthy and happy throughout our lives. Stress, also known as “fight or flight,” activates the fear center in the brain and causes cortisol production, increased glucose, higher heart rates, and other physical responses. Staying in this fight or flight state for long periods can damage our bodies, and many people say it’s the base cause of most diseases.
When we are exposed to chronic stress levels daily, the brain is constantly on alert. The constant state of elevated cortisol cause problems with other systems in our body, such as the immune system and the digestive system. When our brain’s fear center is constantly activated, other parts of the brain don’t have enough energy to carry out the day-to-day activities they need to, and our brain is affected.
Effects of Chronic Stress on the Brain
- Memory impairment. Researchers have found that chronic stress leads to forgetfulness and a lack of attention to detail. Even minor stress can cause you to forget things. Think about when you’re rushing around to get ready for work. You’re stressed, and you can’t focus on something like where you left your keys. This also creates more stress, so you get caught up in a never-ending cycle of stress. According to Dr. Kerry Ressler, chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “The basic idea is that the brain is shunting its resources because it’s in survival mode, not memory mode.”
- Physical Brain Changes. Our brain is made up of gray matter and white matter. White matter is responsible for communication and connecting the different parts of the brain. Gray matter is responsible for figuring out answers to problems and making decisions. When we’re under chronic stress, less gray matter is produced, which affects our ability to make good decisions. White matter is overproduced, which then can change the brain’s physical structure.
- Brain Cell Death. Recent research indicates that chronic stress causes the death of new neurons formed in the hippocampus. Chronic stress causes the body to make more cortisol than it can handle, causing the brain to function abnormally and allowing newly formed neurons to die off instead of strengthening.
- Brain Shrinkage. Chronic stress can cause the cerebrum to shrink. This is the area of the brain responsible for memory, emotion, and metabolism. In essence, allowing yourself to experience chronic stress states makes you less likely to deal with stress effectively in the future. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Considering the physical and emotional impact stress can take on our bodies and minds, it’s essential to learn how to reset—especially on those more stressful days than usual. It’s entirely possible to reset your mindset after a stressful day has derailed you. It takes some healthy coping strategies and a willingness to let go of the daily grind.
Take heart. It is possible to reduce chronic stress. It’s a matter of choosing to make self-care a priority. Read on for some helpful tips on resetting your stressed out brain.
Dos and Don’ts for a Healthy Brain Reset
- Don’t self-medicate. Sometimes it’s tempting to turn to alcohol, unhealthy foods, or other substances to manage stress. You might feel a little bit better in the short term, but the long-term effects of using substances to cover up your emotions can be significant. Regular self-medication with unhealthy solutions can cause addiction problems, worsening symptoms, cranky mood swings, and other health problems. They also tend to damage your relationships with other people.
- Do find healthy ways to cope. Working out lifts your mood, boosts your energy, and improves cognitive function. Hit the gym, hike, ride your bike or play with your kids. These are all healthy ways to reset a tired brain and body.
- Do Laugh. Laughter has physical and emotional benefits for your brain and body. Laughter increases oxygen intake, increases endorphins, relieves the stress response, relaxes your muscles, and decreases your heart rate. Over the long term, laughter can also boost immune function, improve mood and release neuropeptides that fight stress.
- Do Practice Gratitude. Taking a few minutes to reflect on the day’s events and focus on the good things is a great way to reset your brain and relieve the damaging effects of stress. Keep a journal to look back on the positives during a challenging day.
- Don’t Hold Grudges. When you hold a grudge against someone, you’re holding on to negative emotions, which is, in essence, a form of stress. Thinking about adverse events will cause your body to remain in fight or flight. Researchers at Emory University have shown that the more you hold on to these negative emotions, the higher your blood pressure and chances of developing heart disease are. Letting go of that grudge lightens your stress load and can help improve your health. Remember, you’re not hurting the other person when you hold on to negative emotions. You’re really only harming your own health.
- Do Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a simple practice that helps us focus on the now and release scattered thoughts. This practice helps reduce stress because you are in control of your thoughts and emotions instead of your thoughts and feelings controlling you. Mindfulness allows you to practice staying calm and thoughtful in your responses, which also reduces stress and helps the brain stay healthy.
- Don’t Forget to BrainTap. BrainTap is a powerful tool that helps balance your brainwaves and increase neuroplasticity. Our algorithms produce brainwave entrainment, which gives you full-spectrum brainwave activity and resets your brain to release stress and allow you to move through the remainder of your day. You’ll also form new neural connections for a flexible and resilient brain resistant to the damaging effects of chronic stress.
Stress often comes from how we perceive events in our lives. Try not to spend too much time thinking about what your boss said or your kids’ tones. Take a minute and put things in perspective. Take one suggestion above at a time and try to incorporate it into your daily routine. It may seem simple at first, but focusing on solutions can be challenging when we’re stressed. If you take small steps toward the bigger goal, you’ll find your brain thriving and your stress melting away.