As the holiday season approaches, a time of year which is notoriously stressful for many, you may want to heed the results of a Yale University study which reveals that stress actually chews holes in the brain.
As the Star Tribune has reported, Sandi Bond Chapman, who is the the founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, discovered that the death of her husband was something which caused her such a great amount of pain that she felt her mind ebbing immediately afterward, commenting that “Stress is one of the best brain robbers we have.”
Now Yale University research backs this sentiment up by demonstrating that great amounts of stress can actually make the brain shrink significantly. As neuroscientist and author David Eagleman noted, this is really not surprising. However, it probably doesn’t help that people may now be stressed about being stressed, knowing that this feeling can cause holes to form in their brain.
“It’s a short, easy story, actually. Stress is underpinned by particular hormones that circulate through the body and the brain. Those stress hormones are very bad for brain tissue. They eat away at brain tissue. What’s new to be stressed about is that stress is literally chewing miniature holes in your brain.”
"One definitely wants to have a functioning hippocampus" https://t.co/7bLtmQhorL
— Amy (@teruterubouzu) December 6, 2018
To properly deal with stressful situations, our bodies manufacture the hormone known as cortisol, which was certainly both useful and appropriate when humans were still cave dwellers and living in situations where merely stepping outside could result in being killed by a very large animal. According to Eagleman, humans were created in this way so that they could deal with very quick life or death situations. However, our bodies have not continued to evolve to suit our modern lifestyles today.
“The general story is that we evolved to have stress systems that are useful when you need a fast response. What we did not evolve for is chronic stress, that 21st-century stress that man and woman lives with.”
And rather than just a quick burst of a hormone release today, the vast majority of humans now have high levels that are perpetually elevated. Our bodies, as Eagleman noted, are simply not designed to have long-lasting stress, and it is this continual stress which causes holes to form in the brain.
As Chapman explained, it is the frontal lobe which is “the most critical to everyday functionality.”
“When you have the impact of stress, things that allow you to be successful will be impaired. You can’t figure out how to juggle things, to set priorities.”
The frontal lobe is just one of four regions of the brain that are affected by stress. Robert Sapolsky from Stanford University has cited the hippocampus as one of the most crucial regions, commenting that “One definitely wants to have a functioning hippocampus.”
This is especially true as this area of the brain is the one that is most susceptible to the negative effects of stress. Because if you become too stressed, “You get neurons dying, shriveling up and losing connections. It’s all really bad news.”
While people get stressed out for different reasons and not everyone experiences the same levels of stress, it may be that our modern lifestyles are simply not compatible with how humans were designed after new research has demonstrated that stress can create holes in the brain.