How Stress Affects Your Brain And What You Can Do About It

brain-stressMost of us know that going through a cosmic stressful event, like a death or divorce, will negatively affect our quality of life. But, research has shown, that it’s the smaller, daily stressors that actually harm us the most. That annoying person at work, those not-so-lovable quirks of our partner, and the incessant “but why?” questions of our children are, in fact, killing us softly.

What’s worse, is that it’s not just our moods that are under duress. Our brains, specifically, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex, also react to stress, since it is their job to work together to send out stress hormones and increase bodily reactions to seemingly dangerous events. In addition, the amygdala appears larger, and the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, smaller, in the brains of people who are chronically stressed. This is a huge finding, especially for the critical-minded folks who used to think “being stressed,” was just an excuse for laziness. Now, even those who need to “see it to believe it,” know that stress is real.

Thankfully, there are many things that we can do to reverse the negative effects of stress on the body, and the brain. Just some of the coping skills that can help include:

  • Healthy eating
  • Mindful exercise
  • Listening to music
  • Drawing or painting
  • Writing
  • Being outside in nature
  • Walking
  • Seeing a therapist
  • Gardening
  • Playing an instrument

And let’s not forget, meditation. This ancient technique has been found to reduce everything from negative feelings to violent crime rates, and, it helps to alter brain functions as well.

Just as exposure to consistent negative events can change brains, so can exposure to consistent positive ones. But, how do we inundate our brains with positive vibes?

While there are many ways to experience meditation, we think these are perfect for beginners:

  • Try a Guided Meditation – listen to relaxing sounds, and/or words, to take your mind to a shiney, happy place.
  • Just Breathe – employ a series of simple breathing techniques aimed at returning you to your center.
  • Experiment with Progressive Muscle Relaxation – a body-focused exercise that will help you achieve relaxation by exploring tension vs. letting go, because opposites do attract!

The wonderful thing about these methods, is that they can be used by anyone, at any time. Busy adults can take a five-minute break from their workday to de-stress, but kids can benefit from them too. In fact, multiple studies have shown that kids who meditate develop important coping skills, including: an ability to self-regulate, a defense against depression, and a tendency to handle academic pressure with greater ease. Here are some helpful resources to use to get your child connected with her inner-zen.

So, while it’s true that stress can be a literal pain, it’s empowering to know that there are real ways to combat it, while making changes that last a lifetime.

If you would like to know more about ways to handle stress and improve coping skills, contact us. We are here to help!