After meeting with my neurologist yesterday afternoon and having discussions about my chronic health conditions, she began to talk about chronic stress and what it does to both body and brain. As a woman living everyday with “Functional Neurological Disorder “and other invisible illnesses, knowing that battling various obstacles from both brain and body not working, this subject has really left me, wanting to learn so much more . As my neurologist spoke, I could feel that my knowledge regarding chronic stress was about to go to new levels. I new that chronic stress increased the stress hormone cortisol but I really didn’t have any ideas that the affects on our brain functions was so extreme, putting us at risk from many mental and physical illnesses.
BUT, STOP RIGHT THERE – STRESS IS VERY MUCH A PART OF MODERN LIFE!
What, I’ve discovered is that there are two kinds of main stress . These are acute stress and chronic stress and not all stress is bad for you. Acute stress is the cause to an immediate threat or action and is more commonly known as the ‘fight or flight’ response. When you are in a pattern of acute stress once the threat has passed, your levels of stress hormones return to normal with no permanent effects. It is actually thought that some level of acute stress is even thought to be good as it assists your brain reach peak performance. However chronic stress, which is the kind of stress that most of us face on any given day is the stress that can cause severe health concerns. Having a ever rising level of stress hormones not only makes our bodies sick and it negatively impacts the brain too. This is what struck the fear chord within me, as when stress becomes chronic, it changes the brain’s function and even its structure down to the level of our DNA.
So what is so dangerous about the stress hormone, cortisol. So I needed to find out about these stress hormones that we have within our bodies. Firstly we have adrenalin which is the stress hormone we make in moments of excitement and is what makes us work or perform even better than we would normally have. Adrenalin assists us and it also does not stay in the body, disappearing as quickly as it was produced . Cortisol, as spoken about earlier and on the other hand, moves through our bodies all day long, making it so very dangerous. Cortisol is the number one enemy for everyone and can lead to many adverse health conditions such as digestive problems, autoimmune illnesses and cancer, just to name a few.
CHRONIC STRESS TAKES A MAJOR TOLL ON ADRENAL GLANDS.
Chronic stress can leave you feeling exhausted, it can cause weight gain, mood swings, poor sleep, short attention span, and memory issues just to name a few of the common signs of a elevated cortisol level . So this demonstrates just how stress and cortisol can take a toll on our bodies but these symptoms can and do also take an equally high toll on our brains. Some of the brain related stress symptoms are obvious when pointed out , these can include memory problems, anxiety, and worry. The horrible thing is though that most of these symptoms of stress on our brains are not noticeable until they get much worse, affecting parts of our bodies. Making diagnoses very difficult. Here are some key issues that causes stress to impact both brain mental health and physical well being. I’ve learnt that chronic stress creates free radicals that destroy our brain cells. Free radicals attack brain cells causing them damage and death as they basically break our brain cell walls causing them to rupture. Losing sleep, eating junk food, drinking too much alcohol, or smoking cigarettes all add to our free radical overload. Chronic stress can make us extremely forgetful. The sign of memory problems can often be one of the first signs of stress you will notice as you misplace commonly used items or forget usual appointments. Chronic stress can create a most vicious circle of fear and anxiety. You see stress builds up in an area of our brain referred to the fear centre. This makes us more scared, causing even more fear and stress and again stops the production of new brain cells. Chronic stress can lower critical brain chemical levels causing depression. The reduced levels of serotonin and dopamine can leave you depressed and more prone to multiple health complexities. Serotonin is namely the “happy chemical . It plays a major role in mood, learning and sleep. Women low in serotonin are prone to anxiety and depression, while men are more prone to alcoholism and ADHD. Dopamine on the other hand is named as the “motivation chemical”and is in charge of your pleasure system. Low levels of dopamine can leave you not focused, lethargic, and again depressed. People low in dopamine may often use caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and illicit drugs to boost dopamine levels. Looking at STRESS so much more closely it is so visible that it puts us all at greater risk of various mental health conditions. The cause of most mental health illnesses is not yet understood and personally I wonder if the true answers will ever be found because the causes are a complex variety of factors. A lot more research is needed, but it has been discovered that physical differences in the brains of people with stress disorders.
From looking at stress this way, I can see why it makes me personally feel chronically stupid at times. In my particular journey with stress, my brain appears to seize up randomly and with no rhyme or reason. Stress impairs memory and at times impacts making decisions very difficult. I had heard, that chronic stress can shrink the brain. Well, yes STRESS can measurably shrink your brain and my neurologist did explain this very clearly. It was described to me that the dangerous levels of cortisol can destroy and shrink, the part of your brain that stores memories. This sector of our brain is critical for learning, memory and emotional responses and when we are chronically stressed, toxins enter our brain, however the brain is highly sensitive to toxins of every kind. When stressed our brains safety barrier becomes thinner, thus letting such things as heavy metals, chemicals, and other harsh toxins. All of this putting us more at risk of a multitude of worrying illnesses and diseases and it also contributes to brain inflammation and depression. I was amazed to learn that our brains have their own individual immune systems. This internal immune system protects our brain and spinal cord from infections and toxins. All of this new and thorough understanding of what chronic stress does, has given me more insight to why happiness and peace of mind is destroyed so very deeply. It wears us down mentally, emotionally and saps the joy from life physically and it is any wonder, finding a way out of such darkness takes enormous strength when such symptoms of stress include;
- excessive worry and fear
- anger and frustration
- impatience with self and othersmood swings, crying spells and / or suicidal thoughts
- trouble with concentration
- forgetfulness, mental confusion
- difficulty in making decisions
- feeling overwhelmed
I now know why when I walked out of the neurologists room, I felt a inner request for further information of what is gurgling away within my own chronic illness journey. I sat and cried, I have to admit because, I know now why it is so difficult for the modern world in which we live to understand stress and the illnesses that are caused by it. But, having a more subtle insight to how chronic stress becomes allows me to better understand my own healing journey towards reducing my stress levels and repairing and rebuilding both body and brain to my desired lifestyle.
I have wandered far and wide, looking for tips and tricks over the years to overcome stress throughout my wandering steps. Going forward, I will be definitely going to be more proactive in using these particular steps to help my own body overcome the harmful effects that have had on my brain. I will be going back to my vegan diet, eating foods high in antioxidants such as fruit, vegetables and green tea. This will assist in stopping further free radical damage.
Increasing mindfulness back into my daily practice will become so very important to boost levels of food energy into the brain. My journey with debilitating illnesses has left me disabled mentally and physically, so rebuilding can’t be strenuous. I am undertaking NeuroPhysio sessions based on pilates and I now know this is particularly important. As I gain more confidence and strength again, I will be able to walk more steadily. I also now have the belief to again use yoga and meditation exercises to heal my mind and body. Using a daily meditation practice reduces stress. Yoga and meditation are alternative tools for being able to master and strengthen our thoughts because as we know stress does not just come from our life events, it also comes from our inner most thoughts and negative reactions with regard to these events.
I know, learning more about, how chronic stress effects body and brain has helped me and I also hope that has given you better information of how it is an unavoidable part of our lives. But I certainly have learnt that proactive and positive steps, can definitely reduce the wear and tear on bodies and brain. I will be definitely incorporating a more mind/body selfcare program again to ensure I can manage all aspects of my life so much better because my brain health is just as important or more as my physical health.
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“Wandering Towards A Life Of Wellness”