brain being shocked and exploding with powder

Remember the anti-drug commercial from the 80s? It could have been about stress.

Actor John Roselius holds up an uncooked egg in an empty-looking kitchen. “This is your brain.” Then he points to a sizzling pat of butter in a hot frying pan.

“This is drugs.” He cracks the egg and drops it into the frying pan.

It sizzles and pops, and then Roselius delivers the message in dramatic fashion.

“This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”

It’s no secret illegal drugs are bad for your brain. But if you let chronic stress simmer on the back burner for weeks, months, or years, it can be just as bad.

Too much stress is a brain drain

New research suggests that chronic stress can impair memory, reduce brain function, and lead to cognitive decline over time.1

Researchers found that people living with chronic stress tend to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

“The faster pace of life today probably means more stress,” says lead researcher Dr. Sudha Seshadri.

“When we are afraid, when we are threatened in any way, our cortisol levels go up … It’s never too early to be mindful of reducing stress.”

3 ways to manage stress

Feeling stressed out? You can’t control every circumstance or situation. But you can control how you respond. Here are three ways to manage stress and keep your brain healthy:

  1. Get moving: Just 20 to 30 minutes of daily walking, yoga, or other exercise can improve your mood as well as physical health.(2)  It burns up stress hormones, and stimulates the mind to help you relax and think better about your problems.
  2. Take a deep breath or two, or three…: Breathe. It might sound too simple, but it really works. Try it. Take 10 deep breaths. Inhale, then exhale…slowly. Deep breathing has a calming effect that can reduce stressful feelings such as anger, anxiety, and fear.(3) Making this a regular habit can also help lower blood pressure and increase your energy level.
  3. Get your Zzzs: Sleep on it. Aim to sleep 7 to 8 hours a night. If that’s a challenge, take a nap during the day. too. Adequate sleep can help reduce stress and restore the body to a relaxed state. When you don’t sleep well, hormones linked to stress are higher, raising your risk for heart disease and other health problems.(4)

Other ways to reduce stress include:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Laugh more.
  • Make time for a hobby you enjoy.
  • If you’re always stressed out, talk to your doctor or ask a professional for help.

References

  1. Echo-Tcheugui, J., et al. (2018). Circulating cortisol and cognitive and structural brain measures. Neurology, 91:2. From: https://www.neurology.org/doi/10.1212/wnl.0000000000006549
  2. Puterman, E., et al. (2018). Aerobic exercise lengthens telomeres and reduces stress in family caregivers: A randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 98: 245-252. From: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S030645301830773X
  3. Harvard University. (2020). Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. Harvard Health Publishing. From: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
  4. Choi, D.W., et al. (2018). Association between sleep duration and perceived stress: Salaried worker in circumstances of high workload. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(4): 796. From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5923838/

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