Chronic stress not only negatively affects the size and structure of the brain but also negatively affects heredity.
Brief stress is beneficial. It mobilizes the brain, focuses on the task quickly, shows the best results in competitions, and captivates the audience when speaking in public. But when stress becomes chronic, there is no need to talk about a positive effect.
Stress shrinks the brain.
Stress originates in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system. In a stressful situation, the adrenal cortex secretes cortisol, a catabolic hormone that keeps a person active to cope with difficulties. But its long-term effects are bad for the brain.
The main blow is taken by the hippocampus, where many cortisol receptors are located. In a normal situation, they help to normalize hormone production. If the level of cortisol remains high for a long time, some of the receptors die. This can lead to memory impairment and learning problems. Simultaneously, the amygdala becomes more sensitive, which makes a person nervous and restless.
Another consequence is the decreased ability of the hormonal system to control stress levels. But that’s not all.
Because of the increased cortisol content, the brain shrinks in size.
Exposure to the hormone disrupts synaptic connections between neurons and changes the prefrontal cortex’s size, which is responsible for concentration, decision-making, and social interaction. Therefore, chronic stress doesn’t just impair memory and concentration; it can lead to depression and dementia.
Stress affects genetics
Experiments show that chronic stress can affect the expression of certain genes. Scientists made such a conclusion based on the results of the experiment.
How the mother cares for the offspring determines how the children will subsequently respond to stress. A caring and attentive parent raises a child-resistant to stressful situations. He has more cortisol receptors in his brain, which regulate the response to negative effects. Babies of neglected mothers are more susceptible to stress due to fewer receptors.
Such changes are called epigenetic since they do not affect the sequence of the DNA itself. But they are hereditary, and the stress response received by the offspring of one mother will spread over several generations.
Stress needs to be dealt with
To prevent irreversible changes in the brain, you must fight stress and reduce cortisol levels. The simplest methods are deep breathing and meditation. Exercise also helps, but it’s important to know when to stop: excessive exercise can increase cortisol levels.
Adapted and translated by Wiki Avenue Staff
Sources: Life hacker