The Real Cost of Stress Is Making Headlines Once Again

By Emily Murray

Most of us can tell you on any given day at least 5 things off the top of our heads that are causing us some form of stress or another. As unpleasant as that may be, stress in an important part of life. While large amounts are unhealthy for many reasons, perhaps some of life’s stress keeps us motivated and moving in the right direction. Exactly what affect stress has on the body is something that researchers have been studying for some time now and recently a new study has found that it can actually shrink the brain!

This recent claim was released as part of a study which was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

How can stress cause the brain to shrink?

The idea of our brains actually shrinking sounds more like something from a sci-fi novel than the findings of a medical study. Essentially Dr. Rajita Sinha of Yale University School of Medicine discovered that the actual sections of the brain which are responsible for the regulation of emotions and metabolism may be the hardest hit areas when it comes to stress overload. When extreme stress or heartbreak from tragic life events occurs, some people may experience shrinking in this area and as a result they may not be able to regulate these areas as well.

How did researchers discover this?

A group of 100 healthy participants underwent brain scans after providing information about the stressful and traumatizing things they were or had been experiencing in their lives. The scans revealed that those who had experienced these high levels of stress actually had a smaller portion of the prefrontal cortex which is known to be responsible for certain emotions and impulses in the body, acting as a control center to these specific feelings and also to help control insulin and glucose levels.

What’s even stranger perhaps is that the area affected most directly depends on what type of trauma or stress has occurred.

As written by TIME writer Alice Park in a recent article Study: Stress Shrinks the Brain and Lowers Our Ability to Cope with Adversity – “Life traumas, such as living with a chronic condition such as cancer or losing a loved one, seems to affect our mood centers most acutely, skewing our ability to regulate pleasure and reward. Smaller brain volumes in these centers have been linked to depression and other mood disorders such as anxiety.”

What can we do to cut down stress in our lives?

With this in mind, we can see no more than ever why it’s a good time to start taking your stress seriously. There is no right or wrong way to relieve stress necessarily, but some ways are more effective than others for some. Here are just a few common ways to help relieve stress.

  • Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes
  • Write in a journal
  • Find a hobby that is enjoyable and relaxing
  • Stay connected to friends and family
  • See a life coach or counselor
These are just a few ways to try and cut down stress. Do you have any that work particularly well for you?