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Stress Doesn’t Only Affect Our Mood, It Changes Our Brains

Stress Doesn’t Only Affect Our Mood, It Changes Our Brains

Stress is problematic for many reasons. It not only is a highly unpleasant feeling, it has innumerable side effects on the mind and body. We all need to learn how to tackle stress, in order to keep our bodies functioning in good health and continue to head toward a healthy future.

Stress Can Restructure Your Brain

Stress isn’t always negative. It can be helpful when you need it, say when you are competing in a sports event or need to perform on stage. It can provide you with a burst of energy that is required in certain areas. However the negative effects of stress, over time, can begin to restructure your brain.
When stress affects your brain, the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis is activated.

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The hypothalamus is a central part of the brain, and it releases a compound which travels to the pituitary gland. This then releases the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic) which is then released into the blood stream. In turn this releases the stress hormone Cortisol. When the released Cortisol occurs it sets the body in a state of anticipation, ready for action. When the body is dealing with the release of Cortisol long term, however, it has a negative effect on the brain. The brain doesn’t cope well with the long term association of adrenaline, so it begins to have negative effects on the body.

Cortisol is responsible for the availability to our energy supply (carbs, fats and most importantly – sugars) as these energies are needed when responding to stressful situations. However after a prolonged state of stress occurs, muscle starts to break down and we are dealing with a decreased response and we begin to see a decline int he immune system. There are also a whole set of negative effects within the brain.

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Stress Can Make Your Brain Smaller

Continuous stress and rising Cortisol levels means that brain signals associated with learning, memory and controlling stress being to decline. This same area of the brain that control these attributes (the Hippocampus) also begins to restrict activity of the HPA  axis and when this deteriorates or becomes weak, we are less able to control our stress levels.

Cortisol also makes your brain smaller! Syanptic connections disappear when there is too much Cortisol and the front part of the brain that determines judgement, social behavior, and decision making, also shrinks. Depression is a risk when this happens, because less brain cells are being developed, and we are stuck in a negative cycle within the brain.

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Relieving Stress: Exercise and Meditation Can Reverse the Above Mentioned Effects

It’s not all bad news! The most powerful stress busters and ways to relieve feelings of tension and stress are exercise and meditation. Mindfulness meditation is extremely helpful. This is when we mindfully stay in the present moment and are aware of our present surroundings. We might name things that in front of us, or use our senses to feel what is happening in the moment. This keeps our brains from focusing too much on the past or the future. In other words, on things that have already happened (and can’t be changed) or things that are yet to happen (so don’t need worrying about yet.)

When you exercise and meditate, you actually reverse the above mentioned effects. Your brain will actually grow in size as your stress levels decrease. So when you are feeling like you aren’t in control of your stress, go for a run, and follow it with some meditation. Prevention is key. Bring those stress levels down as it is the kindest thing you can do for your body and your mind.

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Last Updated on February 19, 2020

15 Positive Thinking Books You Need for a Happy Life

15 Positive Thinking Books You Need for a Happy Life

Books give us the opportunity to live vicariously through the lives of people with greater wisdom than ourselves. They stimulate our brains and help us not only solve the problems we struggle with, but also motivate and inspire us with new ideas.

One of the great things about people who think positively and live happy lives is that they love to help others do the same. There are countless positive-thinking books and these 15 are a great way to help you start living a happy life.

1. Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

mans search for meaning

    This book goes through the horrific struggle of Viktor Frankl who survived holocaust concentration camps. The only thing that kept him going was his idea that everything, even the worst of human suffering, had to have meaning. If you’re struggling through anything in your life, I guarantee the words of Viktor will give you courage to press on and find happiness.

    2. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

    tuesday with morrie

       

      What is life’s greatest lesson? Morrie, a retired professor with a fatal disease, opts to use his predicament to share that message as opposed to just giving up and dying. Following the last few months of Morrie’s life will help you realize what is truly important in life.

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      3. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

      Lecture_Book

        Similar to Tuesdays with Morrie, Randy is a college professor who finds he has a fatal disease with only a few months to live. It is customary for professors at his university (Carnegie Mellon) to give a final lecture with the basis of ‘what wisdom would you impart to a large group of people if it was your last chance?’ Randy stays incredibly positive throughout and even keeps the lecture humorous and entertaining. Amidst it all, his wisdom is a powerful reminder about how to live a happy, full life.

        4. Earning Freedom by Michael Santos

        earning freedom

          Michael Santos was sentenced to 45 years is prison for selling drugs. During his term he fought hard to earn a masters degree and half of a doctorate (halted by the warden) while writing numerous books educating students about the criminal justice system. This book provides a fascinating window into his entire sentence (released in 2012) and how a positive attitude and strong work ethic got him through it. If he found happiness in prison through positive thinking, we can do it anywhere.

          If you don’t have the attention span to finish a long book, the following quick reads are shorter but just as powerful.

          5. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

          little engine that could

            This book has shaped childrens’ minds for years. It illustrates the undeniable fact that when you think positively and believe in yourself, you can accomplish extraordinary things.

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            6. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

            The_Giving_Tree

              Happiness is found in giving. What does it mean to love someone? What would you sacrifice for someone you love? This children’s book teaches a valuable lesson about unconditional love and what it truly means to be happy.

              7. The Dash by Linda Ellis and Mac Anderson

              the dash

                “When your life is over, everything you did will be represented by a single dash between two dates—what will that dash mean for the people you have known and loved?” (Linda Ellis) We don’t choose a lot of things about our life – parents, birthplace, etc. – but we can choose what that dash between those two dates means. This short book will give you a great perspective on making your life worthwhile.

                8. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

                As-a-Man-Thinketh

                  “The outer conditions of a person’s life will always be found to be harmoniously related to his inner state… Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.” (James Allen) This book might be short, but it is jam-packed with statements that will make you stop and think. We truly become what we think we are. Negative thoughts affect us more than we know. Positive thinking = happy life.

                  9. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald  Miller

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                  a-million-miles-in-a-thousand-years

                    You are the author of your story. No matter how boring or dull your life has been, you can always turn it around. Donald was in a rut in his life. He had no desire to get out of bed and found himself questioning the meaning of life. Eventually he realized he wasn’t a slave to a pre-written script. He used that mindset to turn around his thoughts, actions, and life. When the closing credits roll on the story of your life, what will people say? Never forget that you have the power to push your limits and live an interesting, happy life.

                    10. The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews

                    travelersgift

                      The Traveler’s Gift is a fictional story about a man who is overwhelmed with life and finds himself thrown into numerous true events from history – including Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He interacts and learns important life lessons from seven different experiences. The book is full of ways to think more positively and find more success in life.

                      11. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

                      david and goliath

                        Malcolm Gladwell motivates you to challenge your preconceptions of underdogs and misfits in this thought-provoking book. When you break down the facts in the story of David and Goliath from the Bible, you find that David really wasn’t an underdog at all – he was the one with the advantage. This book outlines story after story after story of people who were at a disadvantage and learned to find the strength in their weakness.

                        12. How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton M. Christensen

                        how will you measure

                          How would you feel if you got to the end of your life only to realize you had been measuring success wrong? Clayton provides a mass amount of wisdom and advice on how to live a life you won’t regret.

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                          13. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson

                          Dont_Sweat_Small_Stuff

                            The small things we worry about every day may not seem like a big deal, but they wear us down slowly and stop us from living up to our full potential. Learn how to get rid of those worries and negative thoughts and live a happier life.

                            14. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

                            mere christianity

                              C.S. Lewis, who used to be an Atheist, explains how he came to find meaning in life through Christianity. He breaks down all the reasons we doubt and falter in life and how living the principles of Christianity fixes our weaknesses. Lewis is famous for his deep, thought-provoking quotes and this book is no exception.

                              15. Bushido: The Way of the Samurai by Tsunetomo Yamamoto

                              bushido

                                Bushido is based on the Hagakure, a document that served as the basis for samurai warrior behavior. The document’s purpose was to shape the mind and the spirit of the samurai warrior.

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                                Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

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