How does stress affect the brain?

How does stress affect the brain?

Regular exposure to stress can impact our physical and mental health, but how does it actually affect our brains? One new Harvard Medical School study answers that question.

According to new research, high levels of stress hormones can impact how well the brain functions.

 

Stress — especially when we experience it on a regular basis — takes a significant toll on our minds and bodies.

It can make us feel more irritable and constantly tired, and it impacts our ability to focus.

Chronic stress can also interfere with our sleep patterns, appetite, and libido, and it can also exacerbate a range of health conditions.

These include diabetes, heart disease, and gastrointestinal problems.

One study that Medical News Today covered earlier this year, in fact, saw that even minor levels of distress can increase a person’s risk of chronic disease.

What impact does stress have on the brain in physiological and cognitive terms? Researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA, have explored this question and reported their answer in the journal Neurology.

In their study, the researchers worked with participants with an average age of 49 and no diagnosis of dementia.

At baseline, the investigators asked each participant to undergo a psychological exam. They also assessed each participant’s memory and thinking abilities. For the purpose of the study, they assessed these abilities again after an average period of 8 years.

Furthermore, at the beginning of the study, all the volunteers provided blood samples. The team collected them in the morning, after an appropriate fasting period, so that the blood test results would be accurate.

They categorized participants as having high, middle, or low levels of cortisol, where middle levels corresponded to the normal cortisol level range of 10.8–15.8 micrograms per deciliter.

The researchers found that people with high levels of blood cortisol had much poorer memory when compared with peers with normal cortisol levels. Importantly, impaired memory was present in these individuals even before obvious symptoms of memory loss set in.

These results remained consistent even after the investigators had adjusted for relevant modifying factors, such as age, sex, smoking habit, and body mass index (BMI).

“Cortisol affects many different functions,” notes study author Dr. Justin B. Echouffo-Tcheugui, from Harvard Medical School, “so it is important to fully investigate how high levels of the hormone may affect the brain.”

Source: Medical News Today by M. Cohut
What are the health effects of chronic stress?

What are the health effects of chronic stress?

We share this article since we all know stress is a trigger for seizures. EpilepsyU
Short-lived feelings of stress are a regular part of daily life. When these feelings become chronic, or long-lasting, they can severely impact a person’s health.

In this article, we look at what chronic stress is, how to identify it, and the medical consequences it can have. We also describe ways to manage stress, including medical treatments, and when to see a doctor.

What is chronic stress?

Man suffering from chronic stress at work

Stress is a biological response to demanding situations. It causes the body to release hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline.

These hormones help prepare the body to take action, for example by increasing the heart and breath rates. When this occurs, a doctor might describe a person as being in a state of heightened alertness or arousal.

Many factors can trigger a stress response, including dangerous situations and psychological pressures, such as work deadlines, exams, and sporting events.

The physical effects of stress usually do not last long. However, some people find themselves in a nearly constant state of heightened alertness. This is chronic stress.

Some potential causes of chronic stress include:

  • high-pressure jobs
  • financial difficulties
  • challenging relationships

Chronic stress puts pressure on the body for an extended period. This can cause a range of symptoms and increase the risk of developing certain illnesses.

 

Signs and symptoms

Chronic stress affects the whole body. It can have several physical or psychological symptoms, which can make functioning on a daily basis more challenging.

The type and severity of symptoms vary considerably from person to person.

Signs and symptoms of chronic stress can include:

  • irritability, which can be extreme
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating, or an inability to do so
  • rapid, disorganized thoughts
  • difficulty sleeping
  • digestive problems
  • changes in appetite
  • feeling helpless
  • a perceived loss of control
  • low self-esteem
  • loss of sexual desire
  • nervousness
  • frequent infections or illnesses

 

Over long periods, chronic stress can contribute to the development of a range of physical and mental disorders, including:

doctor measuring blood pressure

Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure.

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • a weakened immune system
  • sexual dysfunction
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • skin irritation
  • respiratory infections
  • autoimmune diseases
  • insomnia
  • burnout
  • depression
  • anxiety disorders
  • post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD
  • schizophrenia

 

Managing stress

Chronic stress can seem overwhelming, and a person may feel unable to regain control over their life.

However, a number of strategies can help to reduce stress levels and improve well-being.

Some methods for managing stress include:

  • Understanding the signs and symptoms. These indications can vary, but if a person can recognize their own signals of stress, they will be better able to manage them.
  • Speaking to friends and family. They can provide emotional support and the motivation to take action.
  • Identifying triggers. It is not always possible to avoid triggers of stress. However, taking note of specific triggers can help a person to develop coping and management strategies, which may involve reducing exposure.
  • Exercising regularly. Physical activity increases the body’s production of endorphins, which are chemicals that boost the mood and reduce stress. Exercise can involve walking, cycling, running, working out, or playing sports.
  • Trying mindfulness. People who practice this form of meditation use breathing and thought techniques to create an awareness of their body and surroundings. Research suggests that mindfulness can have a positive impact on stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Improving sleep quality. Getting too little sleep or sleep of poor quality can contribute to stress. Try to get at least 7 hours every night, and set regular times for going to sleep and waking up. Avoid caffeine, eating, and intense physical activity in the hours before bed.

It can also help to unwind before sleeping, by listening to music, reading a book, taking a warm bath, or meditating, for example.

If strategies such as those listed above are not helping, it is important to see a healthcare professional for advice and support. A doctor may recommend psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

One established aim of CBT is to help people deal with chronic stress. In structured sessions, a therapist works to enable a person to modify their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings concerning stressors.

CBT can also help a person develop tools and coping mechanisms to manage stress responses.

Sometimes, a doctor recommends medications to help treat some symptoms of chronic stress. For example, they may prescribe antidepressants to treat anxiety or depression. For people with trouble sleeping, doctors may prescribe sedatives.

 

When to see a doctor

Do not try to deal with chronic stress alone. If self-help strategies are not working, a doctor can provide support and advice about treatment options. They can also refer a person to a more specialized healthcare provider, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Anyone feeling overwhelmed by stress should see a doctor as soon as possible, especially if they are having suicidal thoughts or using drugs or alcohol to cope.

 

Takeaway

Stress is a regular part of daily life. Short-lived stress is generally harmless, but when it lasts and becomes chronic, it can cause a range of symptoms. It can also contribute to the development of physical and mental disorders.

Self-help techniques include identifying triggers, developing coping and avoidance strategies, reaching out to friends and family, and practicing mindfulness.

If these techniques are not working, or if stress is becoming overwhelming, a person should speak to a healthcare professional.

Source: Article by A.

Can Stress Busters Help Reduce Seizures?

Can Stress Busters Help Reduce Seizures?

Medications control seizures for about 70-80 percent of people with epilepsy. The other 20 percent have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing when the next seizure will strike.

 
Now, a promising new study looked at whether stress-reduction techniques could help reduce the frequency of seizures.

(more…)

Learning stress-reducing techniques may benefit people with epilepsy

Learning stress-reducing techniques may benefit people with epilepsy

Learning techniques to help manage stress may help people with epilepsy reduce how often they have seizures, according to a study published in the February 14, 2018, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

 
“Despite all the advances we have made with new drugs for epilepsy, at least one-third of people continue to have seizures, so new options are greatly needed,” said study author Sheryl R. Haut, MD, of Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY, and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Since stress is the most common seizure trigger reported by patients, research into reducing stress could be valuable.”

 
The study involved people with seizures that did not respond well to medication. While all of the 66 participants were taking drugs for seizures, all continued to have at least four seizures during about two months before the study started.

 
During the three-month treatment period all of the participants met with a psychologist for training on a behavioral technique that they were then asked to practice twice a day, following an audio recording. If they had a day where they had signs that they were likely to have a seizure soon, they were asked to practice the technique another time that day. The participants filled out daily electronic diaries on any seizures, their stress level, and other factors such as sleep and mood.

 
Half of the participants learned the progressive muscle relaxation technique, a stress reduction method where each muscle set is tensed and relaxed, along with breathing techniques. The other participants were the control group-;they took part in a technique called focused attention. They did similar movements as the other group, but without the muscle relaxation, plus other tasks focusing on attention, such as writing down their activities from the day before. The study was conducted in a blinded fashion so that participants and evaluators were not aware of treatment group assignment.

 

Before the study, the researchers had hypothesized that the people doing the muscle relaxing exercises would show more benefits from the study than the people doing the focused attention exercises, but instead they found that both groups showed a benefit-;and the amount of benefit was the same.

 
The group doing the muscle relaxing exercises had 29 percent fewer seizures during the study than they did before it started, while the focused attention group had 25 percent fewer seizures, which is not a significant difference, Haut said. She added that study participants were highly motivated as was shown by the nearly 85 percent diary completion rate over a five-month period.

 
“It’s possible that the control group received some of the benefits of treatment in the same way as the ‘active’ group, since they both met with a psychologist and every day monitored their mood, stress levels and other factors, so they may have been better able to recognize symptoms and respond to stress,” said Haut. “Either way, the study showed that using stress-reducing techniques can be beneficial for people with difficult-to-treat epilepsy, which is good news.”

 
Haut said more research is needed with larger numbers of people and testing other stress reducing techniques like mindfulness based cognitive therapy to determine how these techniques could help improve quality of life for people with epilepsy.

Source: https://www.aan.com/AAN-Resources/Details/press-room/current-press-release/

Stress may trigger seizure for epilepsy patients

Stress may trigger seizure for epilepsy patients

headacheFor people suffering with epilepsy, facing stressful events such as the war, trauma or natural disaster, or the death of a loved one, may act as a common trigger for seizures, a study has found.

Epilepsy is a disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures.

The findings showed that higher anxiety levels in patients with epilepsy reported stress as a seizure trigger. (more…)

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