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Stress Can Shrink Your Brain

We have all known for some time that stress can have serious implications for our physical and mental health. It can cause confusion, worry, heart disease, reduced immune function and so on.  But now researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have found that stress can actually shrink your brain.  

Free Articles - shared learning from ACS Distance EducationWhen we are stressed, our body prepares us for fight or flight. So when we are about to be attacked by a wild animal, our blood pressure increases, our heart rates goes up, our blood goes to our essential organs and so on. We are ready to fight or run. With stress, we have the same responses, but we are not able to fight or run. We may become stressed because we are late with a report, we are revising for an exam, the kids are misbehaving. Our body prepares us for fight or flight, but this physical response has nowhere to go, so it can lead to stress.

In the fight and flight situation, our body produces corticosteroids.  But if the levels of corticosteroids remain high over a period of time, due to prolonged stress, it can suppress our immune system and increase the amount of sugar in the blood stream.  

The hippocampus area of the brain is particularly prone to the effects of this.

The doctors involved studied bosses from Wall Street firms who had been involved in the 9/11 attacks. They found that their hippocampuses had shrunk to the size of elderly people with dementia.
Although the sample studied was small, this does suggest that stress can actually shrink our brain.

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