As a mom, stress pretty much controls your life. Between cooking healthy meals, getting the kids to soccer practice on time and having a tidy home, anxiety is something you are familiar with. We know stress is bad for the body, but how is it affecting your brain? According to Huffington Post, hormones released in response to stress have negative effects on brain function and could possibly be changing the physical structure of your brain.
The stress hormone cortisol can kill, shrink, and stop the generation of new neurons in a portion of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is critical for learning, memory and emotional regulation, as well as shutting off the stress response after a stressful event is over: all much-needed processes in both our professional and personal lives.
Chronic stress can also shrink the medial prefrontal cortex. This negatively affects decision making, working memory, and control of impulsive behavior. Stress also has the ability to affect stem cells, inhibiting access to the prefrontal cortex, where we plan complex cognitive behavior and moderate social interaction. The result is a brain that is less capable of learning and memory, and more prone to anxiety and depression.
To make matters worse, these same stress hormones can increase the size and activity of a portion of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is critical in the formation and storage of memories associated with highly emotional events. It pairs an event with a feeling, and this connection is stored away in our long-term memory so we can either avoid the event or seek it out in the future. The changes cortisol creates increase negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and aggression.
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These brain alterations can have significant consequences on the way we interact with others, our ability to learn, remember, make decisions and accomplish long-term goals. They also make it more difficult to successfully manage stressful situations in the future, leading to a vicious cycle.