The Mind and Mental Health: Ways Stress Affects Your Brain

Over one-quarter of Canadians report feeling “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressed most days, and more than 42% believe their stress has increased. Furthermore, 46.5% of people in Canada say that Covid-19 has intensified their stress.

It’s not uncommon to feel stressed every once in a while, but chronic stress can negatively affect your brain functions. While undergoing a lot of stress, our brain undergoes a series of reactions, which may affect our memory.

But that’s not all! Chronic stress can make you feel like you’re spiraling out of control, leading to an increased risk of mental and physical illnesses. So let’s take a deeper look at how stress can affect your brain and how you can fight back:

The Brain and Chronic Stress: Understanding the Natural Response 

Before we dive into how stress impacts the brain, it’s essential to understand how our body processes stress. For example, when we encounter a perceived threat, the amygdala sends a distress signal, which activates the hypothalamus and sets off an alarm in your body. 

Through intricate nerve and hormonal signals, the hypothalamus triggers the sympathetic nervous system to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase your heart rate, boost energy, elevate your blood pressure, and enhance your brain’s use of glucose.

Furthermore, it curbs harmful functions, alters immune system responses, and suppresses the digestive and reproductive systems. It also impacts your motivation, mood, and fear to put you in flight or fight mode, which helps you survive dangerous situations.  

While stress isn’t inherently bad, being chronically distressed can negatively impact your brain. Your body’s flight-and-fight reaction stays activated if you constantly struggle with high-stress levels. Long-term activation can change how your brain responds to stress and affects your mental and physical health.

Six Ways Stress Impacts Your Brain

Now, let’s discuss the six ways stress can harm your brain:

It Impairs Your Memory 

Several pieces of research show that chronic stress can cause memory impairment. According to experts, people dealing with severe stress are more forgetful and less likely to retain specific information.

Researchers believe that minor stresses, such as being stuck in traffic or being late to work, can cause forgetfulness. One study shows that high-stress levels can increase heart frequency and sympathetic tonus and reduces memory formation.

It Increases the Risk of Mental Illnesses 

Research confirms that chronic stress can cause long-term changes in the brain. Under these conditions, the chemicals responsible for carrying messages from one nerve to another start depleting.

As a result, the brain becomes sluggish and inefficient, which causes innumerable health effects, such as:

  • Absent-Mindedness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Inability to Concentrate and Make Decisions 
  • Obsessive or Compulsive Disorders
  • Sleep Disorders

It Kills Your Brain Cells 

An insightful study by the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science reveals that a single socially stressful event can harm neurons in your hippocampus. How?

When dealing with stress, your body releases adrenalin, giving your brain sudden energy bursts. Under severe stress, your body releases a more potent steroidal hormone that persists in your brain longer. These hormones travel to the hippocampus, the region of your brain associated with memory, emotion, organizing, and learning.

Under chronic stress, these hormones become imbalanced and can kill cells in the hippocampus, leading to learning difficulties and memory issues.

It Affects Your Brain’s Structure

Our brain comprises gray and white matter. While the gray area is responsible for decision-making and problem-solving, the white region communicates throughout the body. 

Chronic stress can cause the overproduction of the myelin sheaths, making up the white matter. As a result, an imbalance between the gray and white matter occurs. It also causes the prefrontal cortex to shrink and increases the size of the amygdala. 

It Causes Challenges with Your Executive Functioning  

Executive functioning refers to a complex skillset, including self-control, memory, and the ability to adapt. It involves your prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. 

Unfortunately, severe stress and emotions can reduce executive functioning skills, particularly reasoning and problem-solving. It can also lower your ability to learn and retain information. 

Several experts agree that an overactive HPA axis caused by chronic stress can also decrease executive functioning.

It Affects Gene Expression 

Stress can impact your brain’s unique DNA structure by activating or suppressing your family genes through a process called epigenetics.

Research shows that chronic stress due to childhood trauma can trigger these changes in your brain. 

Protect Yourself from Chronic Stress: Ways to Reverse the Impacts of Stress on Your Brain 

Learn to minimize the negative impacts of stress by using the following coping techniques:

  • Practice Meditation
  • Establish Control Over Your Situation 
  • Go for a Quick Job
  • Get a Good Night’s Sleep
  • Declutter Your Environment 
  • Work with a Therapist 

Can You Qualify for Disability Tax Credit if You Have a Mental Illness?

Chronic stress can impact your ability to perform mental functions in your daily life. So it’s an excellent idea to get a disability tax credit if you’re dealing with high-stress levels. As a result, the Canadian Revenue Agency will reduce your income tax!

Here are the basic requirements for receiving a disability tax credit:

  • Be a Canadian citizen
  • Have a prolonged or permanent restrictive impairment 

According to the CRA, the following mental illnesses meet its criteria for qualifying for the disability tax credit:

  • Anxiety Conditions 
  • Mood Disorders
  • Personality Disorders 
  • Psychotic Conditions
  • Substance Abuse Disorders 
  • Trauma-Related Disorders 

You can apply for a DTC through a disability tax credit firm or manually to get started. Ensure you meet the Canadian Revenue Agency’s eligibility criteria before submitting your application. 

The Bottom Line

Chronic stress can cause your brain to develop a pattern of responding to it, which makes you more receptive to it. These changes can trigger memory issues, inability to manage emotions, challenges in executive functioning, and susceptibility to mental health conditions. 

Addressing and managing stress can be challenging, but the rewards include peace of mind, less stress and anxiety, and improved quality of life. So apply for DTC today to increase your productivity and lead a healthier life. 

Disability Tax Credit Find out quickly if you are eligible for the Disability Tax Credit. Free Assessment