Stress and the Brain—Part I

stress3Ongoing stress can affect the ability to think clearly and make good decisions. It can also lead to depression, put us at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease and have long-term negative effects on the brain.

When we get stressed out, the brain’s limbic system (responsible for emotions, memory and learning) triggers an alarm that activates the “fight-or-flight” response. Basically what happens is that more adrenaline and cortisol are produced in the brain and they work together to speed up heart rate, increase metabolism and blood pressure, enhance attention, activate the body’s immune system and anti-inflammatory response and lower sensitivity to pain. When we are no longer in danger, the body resets itself back to normal.

The fight-or-flight response is a good thing when our survival is at stake. But when we are in a constant state of stress even though there is no imminent danger, the body is unable to reset itself and the brain continues to be exposed to high levels of adrenaline and cortisol. Over the long term this can cause blood sugar imbalances and blood pressure problems, whittle away at muscle tissue, bone density, immunity and inflammatory responses. These events block the formation of new neural connections in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for encoding new memories.

When these new connections are blocked, the hippocampus can actually shrink in size, hindering memory. We can actually “forget” how to make changes to reduce the stress, leading to general adaptation syndrome (GAS), better known as “burnout.”

Source: SharpBrains, “Six tips to build resilience and prevent brain-damaging stress.”


For tips on how to combat stress in your life, be sure to read our “Stress and the Brain—Part II” post on March 23. And remember, Optiminds’ brain fitness programs take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells and improving cognitive skills and concentration.

Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping students of all ages improve study, reading, math and cognitive skills. Learn more about us by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or by visiting us at:


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