How Stress Affects the Brain

Defining Stress

As discussed in our previous blog, Stress is a normal response when we’re under a lot of pressure, when there are big changes in our lives, there are negative events we have little control of, financial troubles, health, family, and relationship problems.

Effects of Stress on our Cognitive Functions

Have you ever had days when you seem to continuously forget things such as where you placed your keys, or to get something from the supermarket on the way home, or even a significant anniversary? This could be a sign that you are stressed, and your mind is working overtime.

Stress is the brain’s survival response. As you may know, cognitive functioning is the ability of your brain to process environmental input via our senses, our thoughts about this input, and our emotional reactions to what we perceive are going on. We then act on what we have processed accordingly. However, when we are in survival mode, we are reacting like we are under threat and have no time to think. We are operating instinctively or falling back on what we know well or are trained to do. 

When you are stressed, your brain has fewer resources devoted to higher-order thinking. Concentration and focus and short-term memory may be impaired. This in turn will have a detrimental effect on learning. It is also more difficult to engage creatively and think about the ‘bigger picture’. 

There are significant physical and psychological and emotional risks in prolonged states of Stress. Long-term stress takes a toll on our bodies and our minds. It is important to relieve your stress by having regular downtime.

How to Reduce the Effect of Stress on Your Cognitive Ability

Stress will always exist in our daily life, however, we can be mindful of our need to wind down to a relaxed state at least once a day if possible. Practicing mentally putting our worries to the side is beneficial even for a short time. To reduce the effect of stress on your cognitive ability, you can:

Plan Ahead. Realising that you’re stressed is one big step to control the things that you can. A simple to-do list, reminders, or preparing ahead could keep you on track for the times that your mind is likely to be fully occupied.

Get Support. Accept help when offered, organise some backup when you know you will be needing assistance, seek emotional support from people you trust. You may also benefit from counselling or debriefing with a professional such as seeing a psychologist.

Sleep well. Make keeping a regular sleep routine a priority. Natural sleep is the best, so avoid the temptation to use alcohol, etc to get to sleep. Our brains need rest to function at their best!

Take regular breaks away from your work during the day, spend some time outside if you can. Plan a holiday or a retreat. Time away can help you to wind down and think clearly about the causes of your stress and put issues into perspective. Attending a retreat can get your balance back and foster your well-being. Help you reconnect with yourself, and focus on what truly matters.

If you want to learn more about stress and what you can do to manage it in healthy ways, visit  Free Course – Simple Tips to Reduce Stress

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