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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 August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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