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The Effects of Long Term Stress on the Brain

As you may imagine my work as a coach varies greatly depending on what my clients bring to the table each week. Recently a trying to Thrive attorney brought to my attention that he was struggling with his memory. Struggling so much in fact that his doctor had scheduled a battery of tests to see if there were cognitive problems – not an insignificant concern to be sure! How does this relate to stress? Well, there’s stress and then there’s stress…he’s got stress.

Long term stress has a unique and detrimental effect on the human body. Short term stress, helpful in our fight or flight response, is not the problem. The problems start with weeks or years of exposure to the hormonal changes your body goes through in response to that stress. Cortisol is a hormone, which is stimulated by your adrenal cortex in an effort to get ready for the fight or flight. Over time however this same hormone is problematic and begins to wear down the brain (Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, J. Douglas Bremner). As we’ve discussed in the past long term stress should be avoided if at all possible and if it can’t be, then taking steps to mitigate its impact need to be taken.

Let’s focus today on the brain and what that stress is doing to it. Constant worrying, inability to focus and racing thoughts are a just a few of the effects on the brain when a Thriver is under a great deal of stress. We can add to that list with forgetfulness, disorganization and poor judgment (Mayo Clinic). When presented to a doctor who is trained to look for disease it’s easy to see how an otherwise healthy human might be thought to have cognitive issues.

None of these effects make it easy to Thrive. As a matter of fact one could easily argue that until the stress is significantly reduced, the symptoms lessened and the underlying problems that brought about the stress are addressed, it is a matter of survival and not Thriving.

Here’s an analogy I use often: if your house is on fire and you’re standing on the curb safe (as is your family and pets!) is your first priority to think about the color of paint you’ll pick for the re-built kitchen? No, you’ll take care of the most important things first such as making sure the fire department is called and allowing them to do their job. What did this trying to Thrive attorney do first? Just about the same thing – he addressed the most critical of the issues, set priorities for the other underlying issues and got himself to the battery of tests his doctor set up for him. Good news? The memory issues he was so worried about were attributed in the end to his level of stress. Whew. Now he can focus on taking care of that which needs to be taken care of and taking care of himself.

Do you have a critical amount of stress, which is beginning to impact your brain? Have you taken the steps to address those issues or identify the source of that stress? In an effort to Thrive it’s a great place to start that journey! Need some assistance? I’m here to help and provide some feedback while you move from surviving to Thriving! Give a call, drop a note and know that if this is your brain it really doesn’t have to stay this stressed out!

 

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