Stress Is Shrinking Your Brain

stress shrinks the brain, stress and mental health

Stress is Linked to Brain Shrinkage

A recent stress and mental health study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio reports stress causes brain shrinkage and impairs memory.

Cortisol, a hormone linked to stress, was tested in adults in their 40’s and 50’s. Individuals with higher levels of cortisol had smaller brain volume. They also experienced worse memory and performed worse on cognitive tasks than those with normal cortisol levels.

Stress Reduction Practices Are Critical For Brain Health

Memory loss and brain shrinkage were found in the individuals studied before the onset of any symptoms. This is important to know because by the time you develop symptoms your brain may already have experienced damage from your chronic stress.

I recommend Dr. Kathleen Hall’s S.E.L.F. Care Program. I suggest you learn about this effective, research-proven stress reduction program. Here are some simple tips for you to practice regularly.

Dr. Kathleen Hall’s S.E.L.F. CARE Program

You will experience better mental and physical health, be a happier person and also be more productive.

S= Serenity

Serenity is the opposite of stress. Learn a few simple practices that scientific research has proven supports brain health, lowers blood pressure, lowers your heart rate, gives you an immune boost and reduces the stress hormones in your body. These practices also help your body produce calming healing hormones that de-stress the mind and body.

Do any of these serenity practices for just 2-4 minutes to reduce stress right away. I love all the apps found in the app store for all of the practices listed below, (short meditations, affirmation apps, music you love, and apps with beautiful relaxing nature and sounds, and guided imagery apps). Love CALM app.

  1. Do a short meditation. Over a thousand scientific studies prove practicing a relaxation response creates health benefits and reduces stress.
    • Be silent in a comfortable place for a few moments
    • Choose a simple short phrase or word that creates calm for you, (such as peace, surrender, let go let God, any favorite saying you love).
    • Close your eyes, take deep cleansing breathes, to the count of 1-2-3-4.
    • As you inhale, continue to repeat your favorite word or phrase.
    • As worries, anxiety or thoughts appear in your mind, continue taking deep breaths and repeat your word/words over and over again.
  2. Repeat a positive affirmation. Research shows that repeating a positive affirmation when you are stressed reduces the production of stress hormones. Create an affirmation you love, such as, I am strong, I am in control, everything has a purpose.
  3. Music. Research reveals listening to music creates calming hormones in the body. Download to your iPhone your favorite relaxing music and listen to it for a few minutes when you are stressed and it will create calm.
  4. Ecotherapy. Research reveals that listening to nature sounds can reduce stress and depression. Download an app with bird, water, or nature sounds to your smartphone, iPad or computer and when you are stressed listen to sounds in nature and relax.
  5. Guided Imagery. Download your favorite guided imagery or just memorize your own. Imagine you are at your favorite place on earth. Visualize yourself there, smell this place, feel your presence, hear the sounds and touch the flora. Your brain will immediately create relaxing hormones.

E= Exercise

Research tells us exercise produces relaxing hormones such as endorphins and reduces the production of stress hormones such as cortisol which promotes brain health. Exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in reducing stress and depression.

  1. Walking. Simply going for a walk instantly reduces stress and helps create calm in the body. When you are stressed, walk around your office building or walk up and down the stairs for a few minutes to reduce stress.
  2. A new piece of furniture. Going to a gym is just impossible for many of us who live overscheduled. Put a tread climber or a treadmill in the corner of your television room. Get on it for 20 minutes as you watch your recordings of your favorite shows. If you choose a 30-minute show by the time you finish your show your exercise time is over.  This is also a good way to mentor healthy practices to your children.
  3. Yoga. We have emerging research on the stress-reducing power of yoga. Memorize five simple yoga stretches. Doing some simple yoga stretches in your chair, at your desk, on your bed or on the floor to relax your tense muscles and reduces the stress in your body and refresh your mind. Find your favorite teacher and download their app to your smartphone, iPad or computer.
  4. Family exercise. Keep a basketball hoop or badminton net in the backyard.  When the family is stressed over some situation, get outside and play or go for a walk. Every evening after dinner the entire family goes on a walk together. This creates family time of communication, intimacy, and play.

L= Love

Sharing your stress and concerns helps the mind and body relax and renew for greater brain health. Research tells us there is a positive relationship between having community and our health. Pioneering cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish says, “Isolation kills, community heals.”

  1. Meet with a friend, coworker, or friends at least once a week for a meal. When we have a physical connection with others we produce healthy hormones and they relax us and reduce our stress. You produce endorphins and oxytocin when you meet with someone you care about.
  2. Get in a group. Create a study group, a card group, an exercise group or some group around some interest you have. When you have friends that support you there is less stress in your life. Reserve your workroom or conference room at your office and begin a group that meets regularly at lunch once a week around a common interest: a book club, gardening, parenting, investing or other interests.
  3. Phone support. Keep at least three best friends, family or a coworker on your phone list. When you are stressed call a friend, coworker or family member for support and that will de-stress you when you realize you are not alone and someone cares about you.

F= Food

Food is medicine. Food is healing. Food regulates your moods, your sleep, and your health. Stress can be regulated by what you eat.

  1. Eat breakfast. Eating breakfast increases your metabolism which helps keep your weight down and helps with your mood swings.
  2. Omega 3.s. Research shows omega 3’s are important for brain health and help with anxiety, stress, and depression. Eat fish, nuts and other foods rich in omega-3’s as much as you can. You can also take omega-3 supplements.
  3. Vitamin B6. B6’s increase the serotonin in your body. Serotonin calms and heals the body. Make sure you eat bananas, tuna, turkey, salmon, rice, sweet potatoes, or sunflower seeds.
Brain Food N0-No’s
  • Energy drinks
  • More than 1 cup of coffee or tea
  • No sugar
  • Do not drink lots of alcohol the evening before. When the alcohol wears off your body responds to stress very poorly.

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