Stress is making our brains smaller

Latest reports have suggested that prolonged stress can cause the brain to shrink and has been thought to increase dementia susceptibility.

When the body is subjected to stress, chemicals and stress hormones known as corticosteroids are released, aiding the flight or fight response. Amongst other changes that occur in the body during a stress response, the brain receives more oxygen to heighten senses and co-ordination, other chemicals are released throughout the body causing oxygenated blood to move from extremities and support vital organs and blood sugar levels are quickly increased to provide bursts of increased strength and energy.

These changes that arise as part of a stress response, occurs when the body perceives a threat and is an evolutionary survival mechanism. However, every day stresses such as relationship problems, work place stress and financial concern, are all triggering the same stress response which is resulting in long term problems.

Recent scientific investigation has suggested that if the brain is subjected to large amounts of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin, it can actually kill the dendrites which are the parts of neurones that aid communication between brain cells. One study has highlighted that the hippocampus, one of the areas of the brain known to be involved in memory formation, is particularly susceptible to cell death in response to prolonged stress.

It has also been noted that the changes seen in the size of the hippocampus in the brains of chronic stress sufferers are similar to the changes that can be seen in elderly patients diagnosed with dementia, particularly Alzheimers .

In order that people do not suffer long term from stress, it is important to ensure effective coping strategies and stress management practices are a part of a person’s daily routine. One such coping technique could be practicing mindfulness meditation once or twice a day. Alternatively acupuncture, yoga exercises and hypnosis could all aid in reducing the negative effect of stress on the body.

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