During these times, it can be easy to become stressed and overwhelmed with everything that is happening in our world. But stress can do more harm than good, especially to your brain.
Your brain functions not as a single unit, but as a group of different parts that work together to perform different tasks. Researchers believe that when one part of your brain is engaged, the other parts of your brain may not receive as much energy to handle their own vital tasks. For example, if you are in a dangerous or emotionally taxing situation, or your brain is reacting as if it is due to stress, the amygdala may take over, leaving the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory and performing higher-order tasks with less energy to get their jobs done. This is why you might be more forgetful or feel disorganized when you are under stress.
On top of this, high levels of cortisol can wear down the brain’s ability to function properly. Stress can kill brain cells and even reduce the size of the brain. Chronic stress can even cause a reduction in size of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for higher cognitive and executive functions.
So what do we do about it? Here are just a few tips to help manage stress and decrease the effects it could have on the brain:
- Establish some control over your situation – Create a routine.
- Get a good night’s sleep – sleep deprivation can cause stress to become worse. Adapt a healthy sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding caffeine after noon and creating a relaxing sleep environment, such as turning off electronics before bed and making sure the room is cool and completely dark.
- Get organized – Create a concrete list of tasks to help you manage your workload and reduce stress. Laying tasks out can help reduce the feeling that the brain is being bombarded.
- Get help when you need it – reaching out can help you become more resilient and better able to manage stress.
- Change your attitude towards stress – “A life without stress is not only impossible, but also would likely be pretty uninteresting — in fact, a certain degree of stress is helpful for growth,” says Dr. Kerry Ressler, chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. So, rather than striving for no stress, strive for healthier responses to stress.