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Posted: 1 Aug

The Neuropsychological Effect of Stress and How to Address It

The Neuropsychological Effect of Stress and How to Address It

Stress is a common part of daily life and the human body is perfectly designed to deal with brief periods of stress. However, today’s fast-paced world is pushing people from all walks of life to the breaking point. Currently, stress culture is a hot topic in workplaces and homes. Though we are naturally adapted to deal with stress, how do you know when your stress level is becoming unhealthy and how do you actually address it? Call us today to book an appointment with a psychologist. 

You already know that stress is generally not good for the body. It can cause headaches, chest pains, chronic fatigue, mood problems such as depression and anxiety and even behavioural changes such as anger outbursts and overreacting. In addition to that, stress can have a serious impact on your brain function.  

Neuropsychological Effect of Stress 

Increases the Risk of Mental Illness 

Various studies show that people who undergo prolonged periods of stress are more prone to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders later in life. A paper published in Molecular Psychiatry suggests that this is because stress causes long term changes in the brain. Researchers at the University of California show that chronic stress creates more myelin-producing cells but below normal neurons which interferes with balance and timing of communication within the brain. (reference: https://news.berkeley.edu/2014/02/11/chronic-stress-predisposes-brain-to-mental-illness/

Changes Brain Structure 

Researchers in the University of California noted that chronic stress also upsets the balance between gray and white matter which can result in long-term changes to brain structures and function. 

Stress Kills Brain Cells 

Researchers at the Rosalind-Franklin University of Medicine and Science have discovered that a single stressful social event has the potential to kill new neurons in the hippocampus – an area of the brain associated with learning, memory, emotion and where new brain cells are formed. The research concludes that stress influences the survival of brain cells (reference: http://209.236.72.243/stress_and_brain_cells.htm). 

Stress Shrinks the Brain 

Stress can cause brain shrinkage in areas associated with memory and emotional regulation. Researchers at Yale University observed that exposure to intense, traumatic stress reduced grey matter in the prefrontal cortex – a region of the brain linked to emotions and self- 

control (reference: https://news.yale.edu/2012/01/09/even-healthy-stress-causes-brain-shrink-yale-study-shows). 

Hurts the Memory 

Under stress, it is common to forget things such as where you placed your keys. A 2012 study observed that chronic stress negatively impacts spatial memory – the ability to recall the location of items or spatial orientation. Researchers have also shown that stress impedes memory retrieval. (reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5035061/

How to Deal with Cognitive Problems  

If you are worried about how your brain is functioning, the first and most important step is to seek neuropsychology services. This service will help determine the cause of any cognitive dysfunction and develop an appropriate treatment plan specifically for you. The neuropsychologist will also connect you with additional resources to assist and support you. 

Relieve Your Stress 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, it is very helpful to seek counselling from a qualified therapist. Independently, you can start minimizing stressors in your life. Take time off work, spend time with friends and family or schedule technology-free days. If you are dealing with stressors that are beyond your control, you can lower your stress levels by changing your physiological response to them; some popular practices that can help change the body’s physiological response to stress include; acupuncture, meditation, yoga and walking in nature. Additionally, regular physical activity and eating and a clean balanced diet will contribute to leading a low stress life. 

While stress is a part of our daily life, prolonged and intense stress can have long-lasting neuropsychological effects on your body. Therefore, take charge of your well-being by seeking psychological or neuropsychological services. Give us a call today to discuss your options.