Relax. (It’s good for the brain)

July 2, 2009 at 11:49 am Leave a comment

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Stress is a bit of a puzzle, when it comes to brain function.

In short bursts, stress  can actually help you to think more clearly, but when prolonged (as it often is in modern life) it impairs mental function – affecting blood flow, slowing the growth of new neural paths and new brain cells, and most alarmingly, actually killing off brain cells.  Long term stress can actually shrink the hippocampus, a part of the brain crucial to our memory process, creating memory issues for otherwise healthy people, as well as dramatically speeding the advancement of Alzheimer’s.

The good news is that the effects of chronic stress on the brain appear to largely be reversible; when the stress stops, our brain can once again begin to repair the damage, producing new cells and restoring the hippocampus.

Of course, just *how* to best reduce stress isn’t an easy question to answer, because it’s very individual.  But the way I see it, there are three basic ways to lower your stress levels.

Deal with the cause of the Stress: This is the ideal, of  course…  reduce the stressors in your life whenever possible, and your brain will thank you.   This can mean simple steps like reducing clutter, improving time management skills, relationship or financial counseling, avoiding unpleasant relatives or neighbors,  or simply not watching the news.

Lifestyle Stress Reducers: These are lifestyle activities that reduce stress and it’s effects almost as a side effect: exercise, a good, stable and nutritious diet, social activity, outside hobbies and interests, keeping pets, and building positive social relationships with family and friends.  These things help keep stress to a minimum, and allow our bodies and minds to better cope with the effects when stress can’t be avoided.

Learn to Actively Relax: No matter how hard we try, we can’t always keep stressors out of our lives.  That’s when having a few relaxation practices at hand is useful:  Learning meditation, controlled breathing practices, yoga, hypnosis, positive visualization methods, or expressive dance can help.  Many people find that journaling is a positive outlet, as is listening to music, gardening, or just being out in the natural world.  Try to have at least one method you can practice in almost any scenario – calming breaths, a mantra, or worry beads can help you cope with immediately stressful situations before they get out of hand.

For the best results, try to combine tactics from all three sections: reduce the number of stressors in your life, practice a lifestyle that helps your body and brain reduce the effects of stress, and learn to actively relax to short-circuit the stress process whenever appropriate.

So Relax.  Your brain will thank you with better function and memory, and you’ll find that you have more energy and a brighter outlook on life.

related post:  10 Quick and Easy Ways to De-Stress Your Brain

Entry filed under: Reduce Stress. Tags: , , , .

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness

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