Updated: Feb 28, 2021
Studying psychology and working in the mental health field I have learned alot about stress and how to manage it so that it does not kill us.
This post is going to discuss your brain and how stress kills its without you knowing. We will discuss the different areas of the brain that changes when you are under chronic stress. Then we will discuss how to manage stress in a healthy way.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus
John 14:27 ESV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
Proverbs 12:25 ESV
Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.
Psalm 55:22 ESV
Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
Main Kinds of Stress
There are two main kinds of stress — acute stress and chronic stress — and, despite what you might think, not all stress is bad for you.
Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.
Once the threat has passed, your levels of stress hormones return to normal with no long-lasting effects.
Some degree of acute stress is even considered desirable as it primes your brain for peak performance
Chronic stress is a prolonged and constant feeling of stress that can negatively affect your health if it goes untreated. It can be caused by the everyday pressures of family and work or by traumatic situations.
Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine are stress hormones produced on an as-needed basis in moments of extreme arousal.
Cortisol, on the other hand, streams through your system all day long, and that’s what makes it dangerous. Excess cortisol leads to a host of physical health problems including weight gain, osteoporosis, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes
Cortisol can kill, shrink, and stop the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that stores memories.The hippocampus is critical for learning, memory and emotional regulation, as well as shutting off the stress response after a stressful event is over.
Stress also shrinks the prefrontal cortex.
This negatively affects decision making, working memory, and impulse control
Stress actually fortifies an area of your brain called the amygdala, This is your brain’s fear center.
Stress increases the size, activity level, and number of neural connections in this part of the brain.
This makes you more fearful, causing a vicious cycle of even more fear and stress.
Stress Kills your Neurotransmitters
Your brain cells communicate via chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Constant stress reduces levels of critical neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and dopamine. Low levels of either of these neurotransmitters can leave you depressed and more prone to addictions.
Stress Is a Kill Switch for New Brain Cells
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that’s integral in keeping existing brain cells healthy and in stimulating new brain cell formation.
It’s often likened to fertilizer for the brain.
BDNF can offset the negative effects of stress on the brain.
But cortisol halts the production of BDNF, resulting in fewer new brain cells being formed.
Lowered levels of BDNF are associated with brain-related conditions including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Your Brain Cells Commit Suicide Under Chronic Stress
To understand how this happens, we need to take a look at a part of your chromosomes called telomeres.
You may recall from high school biology that when a cell divides, it passes on the genetic material to the new cell via chromosomes. Telomeres are protective endcaps on our chromosomes similar to the plastic tips on shoelaces.
Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get a little shorter. When they reach a critically shortened length, they tell the cell to stop dividing, acting as a built-in suicide switch. Subsequently, the cell dies.
Shortened telomeres lead to the atrophy of brain cells, while longer telomere length leads to the production of new brain cells.
Managing your stress well can help you feel better physically and psychologically and it can impact your ability to perform your best.
2 Types of Coping
1. Problem-based coping is helpful when you need to change your situation, perhaps by removing a stressful thing from your life. For example, if you’re in an unhealthy relationship, your anxiety and sadness might be best resolved by ending the relationship (as opposed to soothing your emotions).
2. Emotion-based coping is helpful when you need to take care of your feelings when you either don’t want to change your situation or when circumstances are out of your control. For example, if you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it’d be important to take care of your feelings in a healthy way (since you can’t change the circumstance).
You have told your teenager he needs to clean his bedroom. But it’s been a week and clothes and trash seem to be piling up. Before heading out the door in the morning, you told him he has to clean his room after school “or else.” You arrive home from work to find him playing videos in his messy room.
Problem-focused coping: You sit your teenager down and tell him that he’s going to be grounded until his room is clean. You take away his electronics and put him on restriction. In the meantime, you shut the door to his room so you don’t have to look at the mess.
Emotion-focused coping: You decide to run some bathwater because a hot bath always helps you feel better. You know a bath will help you calm down so you don’t yell at him or overreact.
Here are some examples of healthy emotion-focused coping skills:
Write in a journal
Listen to music
Take a bath
Play with a pet
Spend time in nature
Clean the house (or a closet, drawer, or area)
Read a book
Play a game with your kids
Cook a meal
Here are some examples of healthy problem-focused coping skills:
Work on managing your time better (for example, turn off the alerts on your phone)
Establish healthy boundaries (tell your friend you aren’t going to spend time with her if she makes fun of you)
Ask for support from a friend or a professional
Engage in problem-solving
Walk away (leave a situation that is causing you stress)
Create a to-do list
For more information on Stress in The Bible
For more information on Coping Skills when Stressed