How stress affects your brain
Madhumita Murgia | 4:17
Are you sleeping restlessly, feeling irritable or moody? Forgetting little things and feeling overwhelmed and isolated. Don't worry. We've all been there. You're probably just stressed out. Stress isn't always a bad thing. It can be handy for a burst of extra energy and. Like when you're playing a competitive sport or have to speak in public, but when it's continuous, the kind most of us face day in and day out, it actually begins to change your brain.
Chronic stress, like being overworked or having arguments at home, can affect brain size. Its structure and how it functions right down to the level of your genes. Stress begins with something called the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal. A series of interactions between endocrine glands in the brain and on the kidney, which controls your body's reaction to stress.
When your brain detects a stressful situation, your HPA access is instantly activated and releases a hormone called cortisol, which primes your body for instant action. But high levels of cortisol over long periods of time wreak havoc on. For example, chronic stress increases the activity level and number of neural connections in the amygdala.
Your Brain's Fear center, and as levels of cortisol rise, electric signals in your hippocampus. The part of the brain associated with learning memories and stress control deteriorate. The hippocampus also inhibits the activity of the HPA access, so when it weakens, so does your ability to control your stress.
That's not all though. Cortisol can literally cause your brain to shrink in size. Too much of it results in the loss of synaptic connections between neuro. And the shrinking of your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that regulates behaviors like concentration, decision making, judgment, and social interaction.
It also leads to fewer new brain cells being made in the hippocampus. This means chronic stress might make it harder for you to learn and remember things. And also set the stage for more serious mental problems like depression and eventually Alzheimer's disease. The effects of stress may filter right down to your brain's dna.