The power of positive thinking can have some remarkable benefits. One need only look at the ‘placebo effect’ as an example, whereby patients are unknowingly given completely ineffective medications for a condition, and yet are healed anyway. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to the person’s belief that they will be healed by the placebo, which actually causes the body’s chemistry to change. However, the flip side to this is that stress (or negative thoughts) is quite toxic to the body and especially to our brains. In this article, we’ll take a look at 8 Frightening Effects That Stress Has On Our Brains.
8. Headaches Will Mercilessly Throb
As if the stress itself isn’t bad enough, it can actually compound matters by giving you a splitting headache that will likely only increase your irritability and stress levels. Stress is the leading cause of tension-type headaches (also called stress headaches), which are thought to be the most common form that those head-throbbing annoyances take. Nearly half of all adults suffer from a headache at least once a year and stress headaches can develop into more severe migraine headaches if allowed to fester. Caffeine can be a useful stress (and stress headache ) inhibitor, as can stress management techniques.
7. Stress Allows Toxins Into Your Brain
We have a powerful blood-brain barrier that prevents just about everything but essential nutrients from getting into our brains. In fact, this barrier is so powerful that it even blocks our own helpful treatments from reaching their destination in the brain, though we’re working on ways to overcome that. However, stress can weaken the blood-brain barrier, allowing harmful toxins and chemicals into the brain. A weakened or ‘leaky’ barrier could contribute to the formation of some neurodegenerative diseases and can increase the severity of conditions like multiple sclerosis.
6. You Could Be Killing Your Brain Cells
We were often told as kids that watching too much TV would kill our brain cells and scoffed at the notion. Well, the truth is that our brain cells can actually be killed, not by TV-watching, but by stress. That’s because the release of too much Cortisol (the stress hormone) due to periods of stress could lead to a surplus of free radicals in our brains which actually attack and kill our brain cells. Stress could also lead to other activities that promote the formation of free radicals in our bodies, including eating junk food, smoking, and drinking alcohol.
5. The Effect of Stress on the Brain Can Lead to Depression
Stress can directly lead to depression, through lowering the amount of neurotransmitters in our brains. Two of these neurotransmitters, dopamine, and serotonin, are responsible for making us feel happy and rewarded. A drop in serotonin can lead to depression and anxiety, as well as push people to abuse food and alcohol. Dopamine regulates our feeling of pleasure and sense of satisfaction from accomplishing things. When it runs low from stress, we can lose the motivation to get things done and generally feel lethargic and apathetic. This can also lead to people consuming large amounts of sugar and/or caffeine to try and generate energy.
4. Stress Puts You At A Greater Risk of Stroke
Too much stress could lead you to suffer a stroke, based on data from multiple studies. In one study of 6,700 adults, those who reported greater stress wound up being 59% more likely to have had a stroke in the following 11 years. A Spanish study of 450 people showed an even more severe connection, as people with chronic stress were four-times as likely to suffer a stroke. That study also determined that simply being a ‘Type A’ personality (which includes characterizations such as being impatient and aggressive) doubled your odds of suffering a stroke.
3. Your Brain Could Shrink
Stressful events can actually reduce the amount of gray matter residing in your medial prefrontal cortex, literally shrinking the size of your brain. While the size of your brain might not mean much in and of itself, the loss of that gray matter most certainly does, as it’s used to regulate your emotions and impulse control. As that gray matter disintegrates, it can become more challenging to handle future stressors. It’s been found that a transcription factor called GATA1, which can be triggered by stress, can cause the loss of synaptic connections.
2. Your Memory Could Be Negatively Impacted
We mentioned above how too much cortisol can lead to the death of brain cells. Sadly, that’s not the only negative impact that it can have. Cortisol can actually alter the stem cells in our brain, turning them into a cell called oligodendrocyte, which produces myelin to coat other nerve cells. The overabundance of oligodendrocytes means fewer neurons are produced, which means the pathways between your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex erode, making learning and memory less effective. As stress can also destroy newly created neurons in the hippocampus, it’s a potential double whammy to our capability to learn and remember things.
1. Chronic Stress Could Lead to Severe Mental Health Issues
As we mentioned with headaches, stress can have the unfortunate ability to cause other issues which can, in turn, worsen the stress from which they originated from in the first place. This is particularly true of chronic stress, which is stress that is left unmanaged for a lengthy period of time. This stress can lead to a wealth of mental health issues, including dementia, Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia. Chronic stress is often the result of sufferers not recognizing its severity and therefore not addressing the issues causing it.