How stress affects our brains


Stress mobilises energy. In crucial moments it can be good. On the other hand, chronic stress has a substantially damaging effect on our brains. But there are strategies to counter this.


Restless nights, easily irritable, moodiness, forgetfulness: All of these are signs of stress. If in addition one also feels helpless and isolated, then these signals should be taken seriously. Simply ploughing ahead doesn’t work. Chronic stress changes our brain: its size, its structure and the way it functions. This can also have an impact on our genes – and for generations to come.


The HPA Axis

This axis is an interplay in the body between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland or hypophysis (both in the brain) and the adrenal cortex. The HPA axis controls different process in the body such as our digestion, immune system, emotions and even our sexuality and energy storage. In stressful situations, the HPA axis releases cortisol. This is good in extreme situations where one is highly concentrated. But in the long run, cortisol clouds our brains.


Stress Centre in the Brain

If there is too much cortisol, then our amygdala – our neuronal stress centre in the brain- grows disproportionately. This has a negative effect on our hippocampus – the part of the brain that is responsible for memory, learning and stress control. Subsequently, this can attack the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for concentration, decision-making processes and social interactions. A negative cycle can occur, whereby stress causes our brain to contract and our performance diminishes as a result. Consequently, we slide further and further into depression. According to medical professionals, there is also a possibility that stress can cause Alzheimer’s.


Powerful effect – simple counteraction

The effect of stress goes deep. It can even manifest itself in our genes and remain there for generations. All it takes is a trigger in the next generation and the dormant stress areas spring into action.

But there is good news, which is as simple as it is effective:

You can fight stress through physical activity and sport. Meditation is also effective. As a general rule of thumb: Everything that requires a deep intake of breath is a stress killer, as taking deep breaths causes our hippocampus to grow. At the same time, it boosts our ability to remember things, ensures well-being and a good night’s sleep. One simply shouldn’t let stress get them down. One should make sure that stress doesn’t become chronic. One simply has to start controlling stress with these simple steps, before it starts to control oneself.