Hey man, don’t stress me out! We’ve all experienced stress from threats (physical, social, and financial), fears, uncertainty, and cognitive dissonance (the gap between what we think and what we do—I don’t like when people push their way into a line, but I did it because I needed to pick up my daughter at school—this stressed me out).
Unfortunately, many stressors aren’t perceived as positive challenges—good stress—but as negative threats—bad stress. Trying to cope with significant events such as divorce, job, school, new house, financial hardships, conflicts, health issues, and death often result in persistent stress. The effects of chronic bad stress are well known. It’s been estimated that between 75 - 90% of all physician visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Your nervous system reacts by continuing to pump out excess stress hormones that wear out the body’s reserves and leave you feeling depleted. Your immune system is compromised, leaving you more prone to infections. Your blood pressure is elevated; you have an upset stomach, headache, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and arthritis.
How about your mind? We get depressed, fatigued, anxious, panicked, and burnt out. Most organs are adversely affected by chronic stress. Your brain is no exception. Dr. Cheryl Conrad, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, studies the effects of stress on the brain. Specifically, she is interested in how stress influences brain plasticity—the brain’s ability to morph. Dr. Conrad believes that while “the stress response is key to organism survival,” chronic activation has significant negative consequences on brain plasticity and resilience. Reduced brain plasticity may be a factor in depression, anxiety, PTSD and even Alzheimer’s disease. By studying stress and neuroplasticity, Dr. Conrad hopes to uncover how we become resilient. She is also interested in elucidating the mechanisms by which chronic stress alters neuronal morphology and function, and the factors that influence recovery and resilience.
Here is your brain while exposed to stress—some amazing and important findings:
How do we increase BDNF levels or up-regulate (increase the number of) BDNF receptors?
I’m not saying that making more BDNF is the key to removing stress from your life.
I’m saying that Dr. Cheryl Conrad at ASU may be on to something that will help you improve your ability to think, learn and remember and recover faster psychologically after a stressful, traumatic event.
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