How Stress Affects the Brain and Body

By Dr. Tarryn Foster, ND

Typically we are told that the body responds to stress via our hormonal and nervous systems. Hormones carry messages en route from the hypothalamus through the bloodstream to the abdomen or down nerve fibers from the hypothalamus to the spinal cord.

Research has traditionally shown how we respond physiologically. Yet, studies have proven that stress directly impacts and changes our brains; our brains actually change biochemically and physiologically as a response to stress. Mental performance decreases as stress and anxiety increase. The effects of stressful circumstances can have a lasting impact and may be very difficult to forget, because the brain adjusts to these experiences.

Removing stress stimuli from your life or reducing its long-term impact gives the body and brain time to reduce hormones, such as cortisol and ACTH. These play a role in insomnia, reaction to external stimuli, conflict within the brain and powerfully influence mental and physical behavior. Interestingly, research has found that happiness actually counters the effects of stress and helps you to recover from the stress response quicker.

How can we combat the effects of stress in our daily lives on a daily basis? By having a daily gratitude practice, focusing on positive thoughts and feelings, engaging in daily exercise, meditating, giving the brain plenty of time to be calm, and relaxing the body with plenty of rest, you will protect yourself from the lasting damage of stress. Don’t forget to allow yourself the freedom to experience an abundance of happiness, too! Stay tuned next month for more targeted tips to reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness, ease, and calm!