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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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