This is what stress does to your brain

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According to a recent study, stress can impair memory and can even reduce brain size in the middle age.dults in their 40s and 50s with higher levels of cortisol – a hormone linked to stress – performed worse on memory and other cognitive tasks than peers of the same age with average cortisol levels, the research found.
Higher cortisol in the blood also was associated with smaller brain volumes, according to the study.
The findings have been published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“In our quest to understand cognitive aging, one of the factors attracting significant interest and concern is the increasing stress of modern life,” said study senior author Sudha Seshadri. “One of the things we know in animals is that stress can lead to cognitive decline. In this study, higher morning cortisol levels in a large sample of people were associated with worse brain structure and cognition.”Lead author Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui of Harvard Medical School said, “Cortisolaffects many different functions, so it is important to fully investigate how high levels of the hormone may affect the brain.”
“While other studies have examined cortisol and memory, we believe our large, community-based study is the first to explore, in middle-aged people, fasting blood cortisol levels and brain volume, as well as memory and thinking skillsm,” added the lead author.
Memory loss and brain shrinkage were found in the study’s middle-age participants before the onset of any symptoms, Dr. Echouffo-Tcheugui noted. He said it is important for physicians to counsel people with higher cortisol levels on ways to reduce stress, such as getting enough sleep and engaging in moderate exercise.
“The faster pace of life today probably means more stress, and when we are stressed, cortisol levels increase because that is our fight-or-flight response,” Dr. Seshadri said. “When we are afraid, when we are threatened in any way, our cortisol levels go up. This study adds to the prevailing wisdom that it’s never too early to be mindful of reducing stress.”Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction or the “stress response.”
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life—giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price. If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself — and improve how you think and feel — by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
Stress can also help you rise to meet challenges. It’s what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be watching TV. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.

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