Why Stress Damages Your Brain

Why is stress so detrimental for our brain? Learn why adrenalin and cortisol make your brain shrink and how you can stress less

You probably experienced how stress paralyzed you. "I can't think clearly."
Fear before a speech, you blanked out in a spelling contest…

Instead of finding solutions, you react irrationally.

However, the consequences of chronic stress are more severe. Constant overwhelm leads to brain shrinkage in certain areas.
Your brain produces stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol as well as a series of other steroids to prepare your body to fight or run.

The brain's activity shifts to an area where you're primarily focused and alert.

However, the brain isn't able to think logically and creative in this state.

Why Stress Damages Your Brain

What does chronic stress do to your brain?

If you're overworked or overwhelmed for a more extended period, your performance will decrease. Some people are more resilient than others; however, the brain needs phases of relaxation and rewards.
In these phases, the brain produces happy hormones.

Happy hormones can protect your nerves. If the brain continually produces stress hormones, certain areas can go into a decline.
Several studies attempt to make changes in the brain of chronically stressed people visible with different methods.

We can be sure of one thing: The brain matter suffers damage if an individual suffers from stress for an extended period.

We won't let that happen to you! Here are some simple, doable by you tips that help you to stress less (click the box on the right to enter full screen / exit to leave):

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Too much pressure? Gain back control over your mind!

Are you putting yourself under pressure?

This easy tip helps you gaining back control

Too much pressure causes stress. Stress can make us ill. Since 1990, the number of sick leaves for emotional distress has more than doubled. Job stress has been declared one of the biggest threats of the century by the World Health Organization (WHO). Stress and pressure have long entered our private lives as well.

Often we can tell that we feel under pressure when our sentences start with: “I have to…” and “I should…”

gain back control over your mind

Here are a few examples for self-made pressure:

  • I have to clean up the garden, or the neighbors will start gossiping
  • I have to finish the report, or my boss is going to be mad
  • I have to lose 10 pounds because I cannot stand my picture in the mirror
  • I should be nicer to Aunt Annie
  • I have to find a partner because I cannot be happy alone
  • I should become more productive else I will never go places

It makes sense to put some pressure on yourself. If we had no goals, our life would probably fall into pieces. It becomes a problem if we tell us too many of those “I have to…” sentences. Too much self-made pressure results in a cranky mood, depression or even physical illness. And it makes us less productive and hinders our progress.

To prevent this from happening to you just follow the simple tip I will introduce to you:

Gaining back control

If you want to feel more relaxed, it’s helpful to take a few steps back and look at your situation from a distance.You might feel like there are many things you have to do. In reality, you don’t need to do anything.

  • You do not have to go to work
  • You do not have to earn money
  • You do not have to be a great parent
  • You do not have to be nice, friendly or tolerant
  • You do not have to be the neighbor with the tidiest garden

You probably think that sounds crazy. Cross your heart! Is someone making you cleaning up the garage? Or is your boss pointing a loaded gun at your head? Don’t we all know enough people who flout all rules and just do what they feel like? Obviously, this is possible even though one could argue it’s probably not desirable.

There are only very few things in life we HAVE to do. We have to die, and we have to breathe, eat, drink and sleep.

These are biological necessities we have to fulfill.

We do the other things because

  • all others do them too
  • someone once told us we have to
  • we made the decision we want to do them
  • we feel they are important or necessary
  • we fear the consequences of not doing it

Many people feel trapped in a cage of duties and necessities. A cage of things they have to do but do not want to do.

That we have to do all of this stuff is only one way of looking at it. Another way of thinking will make you go through life more relaxed and more productive. It can be trained.

The trick nearly sounds too easy. But it works:

Replace “I have to … “ thoughts with “I want to … “.You can say: “I have to go to work.” That will make you feel forced or even under pressure. You feel like a victim of life or the circumstances.

You can also say: “I want to go to work so that I can pay the mortgage and offer a comfortable life to my kids.” That sends an entirely different message to your brain. Your brain will release different hormones that will make you feel better.

I have to = force and pressure

I want to = freedom and self-determination

When you tell yourself “I have to…” a lot of energy and joy of life gets lost.

But when you say “I want to…because…” it is an expression of power. Your back straightens, your chin lifts, and you feel that you are in control of your life.

The next time you catch yourself thinking: “Oh no, I have to do this and that…”, ask yourself:

  • Do I have to? Will I die if I don’t? Would the consequences of not doing it be all that bad?
  • Or is it something that I will do because I consider it useful and wise?
  • Do I want to do it to avert consequences?
  • Is someone forcing me to or is it my free will?

You can regain your freedom by realizing that you do not have to do anything. But that you want many things.

  • You want to make money to be able to afford beautiful things. That is why you made the decision to work.
  • You want to be respected by your neighbors that is why you made the decision to act like a respectable person.
  • You want to get along with other people so that you made the decision to be nice and friendly.

Not only will you feel more in control and be more aware of which decision you made why and which consequences you signed up for. You will also discover many tasks you thought you “had to…” that are not necessary at all.

Through the shift of mindset, a lot of the pressure we are facing is falling off because we stop fighting. It’s also a great first step towards an ideal work-life balance and effective time management.

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From “want to … “ to “prefer to … “

To want something is way better than to have to. But “wanting” can still cause pressure.Because if we fail to achieve what we wanted we might feel dissatisfied. Especially, when we feel like we are not advancing with our goals.

Again, to want something and the dissatisfaction of not achieving it is not a bad thing per se. Discontent is often the driving force that enables us to make changes and finally grow.

However, sometimes we overdo it. For instance, when we obsess about something or want to do too many things at once. In that case, the dissatisfaction grows to an unhealthy amount that is not helping us to advance but hinders and potentially harms us.

Here is a linguistic trick that can bring relief:Instead of telling yourself “I want to lose weight” or “I want to make more money” reword it like this:

  • I would prefer to lose weight, but I can love myself if I stay as I am
  • I would prefer to make more money, but if I don’t I will still be alright

Words are powerful tools that make a difference in our brains.To prefer something leads to a more relaxed feeling. To prefer something implies that you want something – but in a laid-back way.

Sometimes we fail because we do not try hard enough – often we fail because we try too hard. Or too much at once. In that case, this little linguistic trick will work miracles for you.

Words are magic.

Changing the way you talk will change the way you think, and finally, the way you feel, act and the kind of results you achieve.

Too much pressure? Gain back control!

Watch: Dr. Mark Goulston - How to influence pushy people to treat you right

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