The Resilient Brain

Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

The Effects of Stress on Sleep, Memory, and Anxiety

An introduction to stress in its various forms

There are a vast number of articles that usually generalize or present a global description of stress. Most people think of stress as something that causes you to feel overwhelmed. I’ve been doing stress management for over 37 years. During this time period, through research, clinical experience as a trauma therapist, neuropsychologist and board certified health psychologist, as well as personal experience, I thought I had a good grasp on the various related causes of stress, until recently I came across a Trancend Diagnostics, website that focused on Chronic Stress. It is not clear on this website what exactly they do, however I wanted to share it because they do a very nice job of categorizing types of stress that effect your sleep, memory and level of anxiety.

 

What is Stress?

Your body/brain immune system is a harmonious regulated system. This is what your autonomic nervous system (ANS), which consist of your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), is all about. This system allows you to breath at a regulated pace to obtain a balanced amount of oxygen. Your heart beats at a regulated pace. Your menstrual cycle occurs at a regulated pace. When you eat food, it is digested and passed through your gut at a regulated pace, unless something causes dysregulation.

Stress causes a dysregulation of your ANS and its ability to regulate your brain/body system. Chronic stress causes the breakdown of the various systems causing major consequences.

 

Categories of Stress

When reflecting on the information presented on Transcend Diagnostics, where I differ with the site is that it presents the following as distinctly different categories of stress. I see stress as the dysregulation of ANS and the different categories as triggers or contributor to that dysregulation.

  • The categories on the Transcend Diagnostics website are the following:
  • Emotional - Coping with loss: job, or divorce
  • Cognitive - The way you think and your expectations
  • Sensory- Reaction to your environment
  • Metabolic- Blood sugar level
  • Toxic - Heavy metals, GMO
  • Immune - Food allergies, inflammation
  • Endocrine and neurotransmitters- Adrenal gland, thyroid, dopamine, serotonin
  • Purposeless - Relationship to God or meaning to life, loss of self.
  • Infectious- Lyme, bacteria, virus
  • Oxidative- tobacco use, alcohol, poor nutrition
  • Energetic - Cell phones, electromagnetic field
  • Structural - TMJ or physical structure.

Many of the components mentioned above fit with my 5 Prong Approach of assessment and treatment, which includes the following:

  1. Physical- Anything related to directly affecting the physical brain/body system.
  2. Psychological- How you think and perceive life.
  3. Emotional- How you cope with life challenges
  4. Spiritual- How you feel connected to God, the universe or one another.
  5. Energy- The subtle energy, called “Chi” or “Qi “ in the body

In the emotional component, I look at how you cope with life challenges that are associated with work, children and trauma, which may include death, divorce or job loss. The psychological component includes how you think about your life, as well as your biochemistry of neurotransmitters and hormones that can and do effect how you think. As for the physical component there are several categories, including disease, trauma and neglect, which include the above categories of sensory, metabolic, infection, oxidative, toxic, energetic and structural. The spiritual component includes the above category of purposelessness. What the website does not address is the energy component that includes your “Chi”, which is addressed in Acupuncture, Reiki and Polarity. Over 4,000 years have shown that blocked “Chi’ can and does affect your ability for restorative sleep, memory and level of anxiety.  

 

The Effects of Stress

How do these various factors of stress affect your sleep, memory and level of anxiety? They all individually and collectively cause your body ANS to become dysregulated, thus affecting your ability to have restorative sleep, which is essential for having the ability to attend to your external and internal environment. If you recall in my prior blogs, an effective memory includes registration, storage and retrieval.  If you do not obtain restorative sleep, your body’s body/brain unity becomes highly alert that your body/brain may be in danger, thus activating your protective system (Limbic system- aka Anxiety level), specifically your amygdala, which activates your adrenal system and cortisol level, resulting in your inability to restore information, store information properly or retrieve the previously stored information. This becomes a vicious cycle.  Also, if you are in a state of high anxiety, you will go into adrenal exhaustion, causing adrenal fatigue. Now you are chronically fatigued and exhausted, causing you more memory problems and the inability to sleep at night.  

To combat this, you first reaction is to treat the symptom by taking a cup of coffee or energy drink. These options ignore the core reason, such as a concussion that was never treated properly, PTSD, a family history of generalized anxiety or mood disorder, or a reactive attachment disorder. 

In order to find the proper treatment approaches and methods to improve sleep, get memory working more effectively, and lower anxiety, it is extremely important to delve into your core issues and the various categories presented in this blog that are causing your brain/body to become dysregulated and highly alert.

In future blogs, I will address methods and approaches to help you improve stress-related sleep, memory and anxiety in your daily life. Remember, there is Help and Hope. There is a Way!®

Diane Roberts Stoler, Ed.D., is a Neuropsychologist, Board Certified Health Psychologist, Board Certified Sports Psychologist, and Trauma Therapist with over 35 years experience.

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