Effects of Stress on your Neurological Health

by Hannah Trent (Lyons), OMSII

 

 

There are many ways that stress can impact your body, including your brain. Stress is defined as the “brain’s response to any demand” by the National Institute of Mental Health [1]. This means that not all stress is bad, it is just a normal response. How harmful the stress is to you depends on how intense the stress is, how long it is, and how your stress is treated.

When you are affected by stress, a hormone called cortisol can build up and get into the brain, where it can cause damage if there is too much [2]. Having stress for a long time at any point in your life can change your brain, and some of these changes include damaging your brain cells and decreasing your memory and learning abilities.  

Knowing this, you can see why many disorders can come from stress, especially if the stress is long and severe. While it is commonly known that stress can be a risk factor for anxiety and depression, it can also be a risk factor for neurological disorders such as [3]:

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Bruxism – teeth grinding or jaw clenching that can occur both while awake or asleep
  • Essential Blepharospasm – eye dystonia (increased blinking or involuntary eye closure)

Stress can also aggravate diseases that you may have already been diagnosed with, such as [3]:

  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Seizures
  • Tremor

While this makes stress sound like it is only a bad thing, stress is a normal part of our daily lives, and it can even be good for us. Overcoming stressful events can make us stronger, and sometimes even teach us important life lessons. When it is long term and severe stress though, it must be taken care of immediately since repeated stress can hurt your brain [2]. Stress is the most common factor that patients have reported to trigger their tension headaches and migraines, even by children. Getting your stress under control is very important when it comes to staying healthy [3].

Your reaction to a stressful event is unique compared to how anyone else would react. Stressful events happen to all of us, and while you may not be able to control these events, you can take steps to manage how you react and the impact that it has on your body. Once you let your doctor know that you have been affected by stress, they can help to treat you with medicine and other methods. Your doctor may recommend [3]:

  • Medicine
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Diet changes
  • Increasing exercise
  • Stress Reduction therapies such as yoga, therapy, and biofeedback

 Making these changes in your life to reduce stress can in turn benefit the health of your brain and nervous system.

References 

[1] 5 Things You Should Know About Stress. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/. Accessed July 15, 2021.

[2] Lupien, S., McEwen, B., Gunnar, M. et al. Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognition. Nat Rev Neurosci 10, 434–445 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2639

[3] Stress Management. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037. Accessed July 15, 2021.

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