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By Jonah ldemudiaPublished 4 months ago 4 min read
Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Are you sleeping restlessly, feeling irritable or moody, forgetting little things, and feeling overwhelmed and isolated? Stress is sometimes a good thing. It can be handy for a burst of extra energy and focus, like when you're playing a competitive sport or have to speak in public. But when it's continuous, the kind most of us face daily, it begins to change your brain. Stress can significantly impact your brain and overall mental health. Here's an overview of how stress affects the brain:

Hormonal Changes

Stress triggers the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While these hormones are beneficial in short bursts, prolonged exposure can harm your brain. High cortisol levels can disrupt synapse regulation, leading to memory and concentration problems.

Brain Structure and Function

Chronic stress can alter the brain's structure and functioning. It can reduce the size of the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for self-control and emotions. Conversely, it can increase the size of the amygdala, making the brain more receptive to stress.

Impact on Memory and Learning

Stress can impair memory and learning. The hippocampus, vital for memory and learning, can be negatively impacted by prolonged stress, leading to difficulties forming new memories and retrieving old ones.

Mental Health Risks

Long-term stress is linked to various mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. The altered levels of neurotransmitters and hormones can affect mood and thought processes.


Stress can affect neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to adapt and reorganize. Chronic stress can hinder the brain's ability to make new neural connections, reducing its ability to adapt to new situations or recover from injuries.

Immune System Interaction

Stress can also affect the brain indirectly by impacting the immune system. Chronic stress weakens the immune system, leading to inflammation and potentially impacting brain health.

Sleep Patterns

Stress often disrupts sleep patterns, leading to sleep deprivation. Poor sleep can exacerbate the effects of stress on the brain, leading to a vicious cycle of increased anxiety and sleeplessness.

Behavioural Changes

Stress can lead to changes in behaviour, such as increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, and decision-making problems. These changes can further contribute to anxiety, creating a feedback loop.

Chronic stress, like being overworked or having arguments at home, can affect brain size, structure, and function down to the level of your genes. Pressure begins with the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis, a series of interactions between endocrine glands in the brain and the kidney, which controls your body's reaction to stress.

When your brain detects a stressful situation, your HPA axis is instantly activated and releases a hormone called cortisol, which primes your body for instant action. But high cortisol levels over long periods wreak havoc on your brain. For example, chronic stress increases the activity level and the number of neural connections in the amygdala, your brain's fear centre. As levels of cortisol rise, electric signals in your hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning, memories, and stress control, deteriorate. The hippocampus also inhibits the activity of the HPA axis, so when it weakens, so does your ability to control your stress.

Cortisol can literally cause your brain to shrink in size. Too much of it results in the loss of synaptic connections between neurons and the shrinking of your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that regulates behaviours like concentration, decision-making, judgment, and social interaction.

It also leads to fewer new brain cells being made in the hippocampus.

This means chronic stress might make it harder for you to learn and remember things and also set the stage for more serious mental problems, like depression and eventually Alzheimer's disease.

The effects of stress may filter right down to your brain's DNA.

An experiment showed that the amount of nurturing a mother rat provides its newborn baby plays a part in determining how that baby responds to stress later in life.

The pups of nurturing moms became less sensitive to stress because their brains developed more cortisol receptors, which stick to cortisol and dampen the stress response. The dogs of negligent moms had the opposite outcome and became more sensitive to stress throughout life.

These are considered epigenetic changes, affecting which genes are expressed without directly changing the genetic code. And these changes can be reversed if the moms are swapped. But there's a surprising result.

The epigenetic changes caused by one single mother rat were passed down to many generations of rats after her. In other words, the results of these actions were inheritable. It's not all bad news; There are many ways to reverse what cortisol does to your stressed brain. The most powerful weapons are exercise and meditation, which involve breathing deeply, being aware, and focusing on your surroundings. Both of these activities decrease your stress and increase the size of the hippocampus, thereby improving your memory. Managing stress is crucial for maintaining brain health and overall well-being. Techniques such as mindfulness, exercise, proper sleep, and seeking professional help when needed are effective ways to manage stress. So don't feel defeated by the pressures of daily life. Get in control of your focus before it takes control of you.


About the Creator

Jonah ldemudia

Hello there. I'm Joe,with over 5 years of experience in freelancing.I'm passionate, forward-thinking, and creative and I can thrive under pressure. I'd love to work with you as an optimist, a wordsmith, and a team player.

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  • Jonah ldemudia (Author)4 months ago

    This is great and exciting.

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