Stress is caused by emotional, physical, or psychological strain during situations that require immediate action or decision-making. Stress is common and everybody experiences it. When it exceeds the limit and starts to have negative effects on one’s health, it becomes problematic.

Chronic stress is a form of stress that has a prolonged effect on people. The body’s autonomic nerve system, which regulates bodily functions, and prepares the body to deal with threats and stressful events while also causing relaxation, is harmed by this type of stress since it lasts for a long time and works against it. This impairs the autonomic nervous system and results in health problems. 

Chronic stress can cause changes in the brain’s structure. Gray matters and white matters are brain support cells. White matters transmit the necessary information signals throughout the brain, whereas grey matters are in charge of decision-making and problem-solving.

Hippocampus is a region in the brain that stores memories, emotions, and learning. It is also proven that the hippocampus produces new cells throughout a person’s life. Chronic stress can cause damage to neurogenesis (new brain cells). 

Sudden intense stress like the death of a loved one, an accident, or any sudden trauma can shrink the brain. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by stress. Excess steroid hormone develops free radicals that can create holes in the cell walls of the brain.    

Stress weakens the electrical signals in the brain that are associated with memories. It can also lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s. Serotonin and dopamine are the hormones in the human brain that promote mental well-being and happy feelings. Chronic stress can drop the levels of serotonin and dopamine, which would turn people addicted and stay depressed.   

Symptoms of brain stress

Symptoms of brain stress can be classified into three types. They are the change that occurs in the body, mind, and behavior. Listed below are the effects of stress on the brain and behavior

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Depression
  • Sleeping troubles
  • Unidentified sadness
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of focus
  • Low motivation
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Social withdrawal
  • Anger outbursts
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Feeling energyless
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Feeling helpless 
  • Drug or alcohol misuse

Impact of stress on body function

The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol can raise heart rate if there are too many of them. Stressful circumstances often cause people to breathe more quickly. Because the heart is under too much pressure, it could induce heart attacks and strokes as well as raise blood pressure. Stress can even cause the muscles to stiffen, which can result in headaches, neck and shoulder sprains, pains, and cramps. Stress can interfere with fertility in both men and women. In addition to making women infertile, chronic stress can decrease the motility of men’s sperm.

Tips to manage stress

  • Exercise and meditate regularly.
  • Tell your friends and family about your problems. Never keep things to yourself that need care or attention.
  • Eat healthy and wholesome.
  • Invest time in the things that bring you joy.
  • Eliminate the things that trigger stress. 

If you find yourself in a more stressful position where you feel helpless, it is advisable to consult a health care provider.