It’s clear that our society has changed faster than our genes. Instead of being faced with physical, immediately life-threatening crises that demand instant action, these days we deal with events and illnesses that gnaw away at us slowly without any stress release.
Dr. Robert Sapolsky, in an interview about his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, points out that humans uniquely “can get stressed simply with thought, turning on the same stress response as does the zebra.” But, the zebra releases the stress hormones through life-preserving action, while we usually just keep muddling along, getting more anxious by the moment.
Prolonged exposure to the adrenal steroid hormones, like cortisol, released during stress can damage the brain and block the formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, which is the key player in encoding new memories in your brain. Recent studies have shown these neurons can be regenerated with learning and environmental stimulation, but while short-term stress may improve attention and memory, chronic stress leads indirectly to cell death and hampers our ability to make changes and be creative enough to even think of possible changes to reduce the stress.
What are the best defenses against chronic stress?
1. Exercise strengthens the body and can reduce the experience of stress, depression, and anxiety. Exercise promotes arousal and relaxation and improves quality of sleep.
2. Relaxation through meditation, biofeedback, yoga, or other techniques to lower blood pressure, slow respiration, slow metabolism, and release muscle tension.
3. Empowerment because attitudes of personal confidence and control of your environment, even if illusory, resolve the stress response.
4. Social network of friends, family, and even pets help foster trust, support, and relaxation.
So hey, go ahead, call your mom. It may save your life!
“Brain Fitness Articles, Now with Some Humor”
“Robert Sapolsky on Stress”
“Stress Management Tips from the Serengeti”
“Prenatal stress suppresses cell proliferation in the early developing brain”
Let us know what you think!