How Does All of That Holiday Stress Affect Your Brain?

December 16, 2020   |   Leave a comment   |   1

The holidays are upon us, and that means most of us will begin the yearly tradition of running around like chickens with our proverbial heads cut off. This time of year, many of us find ourselves burning the candle at both ends, trying to make sure we have gifts purchased and wrapped, houses and trees decorated, and a litany of other chores completed in time for our loved ones to arrive.

And then there’s sharing time with said loved ones, who may or may not all get along.

In other words… ‘tis the season for major stress!

Now we know this stress can raise our blood pressure and cause weight gain, thanks to the monkey on our shoulder demanding we eat copious amounts of comfort food. But how does all of this stress affect our brain?

Keep reading to find out!

Stress Changes Your Brain’s White Matter

We’ve all heard about our brain’s gray matter. And as brain matter goes, the gray is pretty important and responsible for our critical thinking and decision-making (don’t sit Aunt Rita next to Aunt Ginnie at Thanksgiving).

But the gray matter only makes up half of our brain, the other part is made up of what’s called white matter. And this stuff is made up of axons that form a neural network that allows the different regions of our brain to communicate. So the white matter is like your brain’s Internet, it’s what allows information to move around.

In order for your brain to work optimally there should be equal parts white to gray matter. But prolonged stress has been shown to increase white matter and create excess wiring, which in turn impedes your gray matter’s ability to think, process information and remember.

Cortisol Leads to Cell Malfunction

When we become stressed and experience “fight or flight” syndrome, our body responds by secreting more cortisol. Now we’ve known for quite some time that cortisol wreaks havoc on our overall health, but now researchers have discovered what excess cortisol does to our brains.

In an effort to keep things simple (and not get all science-y), stem cells within the brain usually mature into neurons and ONLY neurons. But when we experience prolonged stress, these stem cells can turn themselves into another type of cell called an oligodendrocyte, which produces the myelin that sheaths nerve cells. While these sheaths are beneficial, too many oligodendrocytes can wreak havoc in the brain and lead to cognitive problems if the stress continues.

Stress Creates Free Radicals That Kill Brain Cells

We’re not done talking about the harm cortisol causes in the brain. This chemical is also responsible for creating a surplus of the neurotransmitter glutamate. You don’t want this because glutamate creates free radicals that eventually attack your brain cells.

Stress also causes us to make bad lifestyle choices like eating too much of the wrong foods, drinking in excess or smoking, and all of these bad choices lead to our body creating even MORE free radicals to attack our brain cells.

Stress Grows Our Amygdala

The amygdala is the brain’s fear center, it is where we perceive fear and anxiety. It turns out that prolonged stress causes this area of our brain to get bigger in size. When this area gets bigger, we have more likelihood to feel fear and anxiety, which stresses us out. Stress, in no uncertain terms then, causes a vicious cycle.

Stress Stops the Production of New Brain Cells

Every day some of your brain cells die, but that’s fine because every day new brain cells are born. That’s how it’s supposed to work. But, that pesky cortisol I’ve already mentioned halts the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that’s integral in the production of new brain cells. Low levels of BDNF have been linked with cognitive diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress Shrinks Your Brain

While cortisol makes certain parts of our brain larger, it can actually shrink the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that stores memories. Cortisol can also shrink the prefrontal cortex, which can negatively impact our ability to make decisions.

5 Ways to Combat the Effects of Stress This Holiday Season

As you can see, stress is bad, really bad for your brain. Now, life is what it is, and it’s hard for most of us to get through it without experiencing our fair share of stress. And the holidays are generally when many of us experience an increase in stress, for myriad reasons.

Here are some things you can do this holiday season to help you deal with stress in healthy ways so it can’t negatively impact the health of your brain.

Fill Up on Antioxidants

Sure, it’s the holidays and you’ll probably eat a lot of cheat foods. But be sure to also eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods like berries, dark chocolate and green tea to fight those free radicals.

Exercise to Boost Your BDNF

Not only does exercise helps us burn through our “fight or flight” hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, it also helps our bodies create more feel good endorphins. In addition, exercise increases the levels of BDNFs in the brain. Remember, BDNF proteins play a critical role in the health and replication of your brain cells. So be sure to get some daily exercise.

Meditate

Meditation has been shown to be a great stress reliever. But meditation is doubly good for your brain because it keeps your telomeres (those protective caps on the end of chromosomes) nice and long. And long telomeres equal a younger brain.

Get Plenty of Rest

During sleep our brains repair themselves, grow new brain cells and neural connections, and consolidate memories. Do your best NOT to burn the candle at both ends this holiday season and ensure you get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.

The holidays only come around once a year, and maybe that’s a good thing when you consider how stressed most of us get! Do your best to deal with stress in healthy ways this season so you can protect your brain.

We Bet You Didn’t Know THIS About Your Brain

You’ve just learned some pretty neat things about your brain. But there’s something else you’re about to learn…

Your brain is UNBREAKABLE.

Well, that is if you treat it right. As you can see, stress can negatively impact your brain. In fact, a lot of lifestyle factors can negatively impact the health of our brain and lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

But the TRUTH, and GOOD NEWS is, there are things you can do to protect your brain as it ages. Beyond that, there are things you can do to REVERSE your Alzheimer’s Disease.

I know, that sounds unbelievable because we’ve been taught that dementia is just a natural part of aging and there’s not much we can do about it.

WRONG!

Don’t take our word for it. Meet a doctor who has helped countless patients reverse their disease and get their memories and life back.

This video will most likely be the most important one you ever see.

 

 

 

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