No one is a stranger to stress, but do we know the toll it can take on our well being? A healthy amount of stress does exist and is referred to as eustress. Eustress has been found to be beneficial and pushes us towards curiosity, growth, resilience, and self-improvement.
Persistent unhealthy stress has the ability to create chronic inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can be described as the body's defense mechanism or an attempt to rid the body of damaged cells, irritants, and pathogens. Stress can also be harmful to our blood brain barrier by weakening it and creating areas of leakage for inflammatory proteins to enter.
Chronic stress has adverse effects on hormones and hormone regulation as well. Cortisol is best known for its role in the "fight-or-flight" instinct, but also contributes to metabolism, blood sugar regulation, and sleep/wake cycle. The hippocampus, recognized as the primary area for memory and learning in the brain, is susceptible to damage from both inflammation and blood brain barrier leakage, as well as heightened and prolonged levels or cortisol that result in shrinkage of the hippocampus.
To keep our brain at its sharpest and healthiest, we must prioritize stress reduction and healthy ways to manage stress when it is inevitable. It is wise to not let stress get the better of you, and take preventative measures when you know you will be experiencing high stress.
Below is a list of stress reduction methods that are natural and scientifically proven to lower stress levels
- Physical activity: walking, biking, weight lifting, yoga
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Writing or journaling
- Spending time with animals
- Outdoor activity
- Eating well and maintaining a balanced diet
- Making sleep a priority