Wednesday, February 12, 2014

This is Your Brain on Stress

"Wow, this is pretty stunning," was my primary thought when I read the results of a study out of the U. of California, Berkeley, reported in Molecular Psychiatry and abstracted by Science Daily.(1)

In a nutshell, the researchers found that rats that underwent long periods of chronic stress wound up with structural brain changes.  These changes created a streamlined communication linkage between the emotional center (hippocampus) and the fight-flight reaction center (amygdala) and reduced connectivity to the prefrontal cortex (where rational thought resides.)  This shift in brain structure strongly suggests that chronic stress can lead to anxiety, panic, and other mood disorders.  So, chronic stress is making substantial organic changes in the brain with at least long-lasting, if not permanent, changes.  Are you mentally checking your stress levels  yet?

This is a pretty substantial discovery.  American society has turned into a seriously stressed out place to live.  Fears, worries, busy-ness, financial pressures, craving for personal attention or professional recognition, and massive social media voyeurism each ratchet up the overblown consciousness of doing life perfectly enough.  27% of high school students report feeling extreme stress during the school year.  "There's never enough hours in a day."  So, stress like this, experienced over the long run, leads to brain alterations that super charge the communication between the emotion center and the fight-flight center.'

I have the following suggestions for reducing stress:

  1.   Reduce use of social media.
  2.   Exercise regularly.
  3.   Get adequate amounts of sleep, target 8 hours (adults), 9.5 hours (teens).
  4.   Meditate or pray daily.
  5.   Avoid procrastination.
  6.   Eat well -- lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, plenty of fruits & vegetables, and  limit saturated fats but include good fats.
  7.   Don't eat when you're feeling stressed.
  8.   Limit or avoid pointless conflicts.
  9.   Listen to calming music where possible throughout your day.
  10.   Simplify your life and reduce clutter and disorganization.
  11.   Write in a personal journal daily and/or process feelings with a close friend or therapist.
  12.   Structure in time weekly for relaxing or enjoyable hobbies or activities.
  13.   Limit caffeine use.
  14.   Utilize adrenal supplements like Siberian ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5), L-theanine, glutamine, and 5-HTP.

(1)  University of California - Berkeley. "How chronic stress predisposes brain to mental disorders." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2014. .

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