Listen to our podcast episode with this article's author, Terry Small, and Leah Giesbrecht, communications specialist, CPABC. Part of our Coffee Chats with CPABC podcast series.
What is it that you do every week that literally makes you stupid?
You get stressed! When you are stressed, you release cortisol into your brain. This diminishes your brain power during the period of stress. Too much of this is bad for your brain, according to researchers.
With all of the anxiety experienced during the COVID-19 epidemic, we are probably feeling more stressed than usual. It’s more important than ever to take care of your mental health. One way you can do this is by reducing your stress.
We all know that stress can make you anxious, uncomfortable, depressed, and tired. However, recent neurological studies reveal that too much stress can change the very structure and functioning of your cells.
Bottom line: Stress can cause brain damage.
Stress normally comes and goes. Fears and anxieties often subside shortly after their onset. But what happens when they don't? Neuroscience points to four things:
- Chronic stress produces sustained high levels of cortisol in your brain.
- Your hippocampus – the memory centre of your brain – shrinks as a result.
- Your brain is unable to produce new neurons.
- Your memory starts to worsen and you can't concentrate as well. None of this is a good thing!
Some short-term stress can actually be good for you. It may help you out-run a bear, improve athletic performance, or meet an important work deadline. But long-term stress, which is so common today, can wear down your brain. Stress hormones can erode important neuronal connections which can lead to forgetfulness.
As mentioned above, research has demonstrated that stress can actually shrink the hippocampus (the memory center of your brain).The loss actually looks a lot like stroke damage!
Here is an idea that may help keep your stress at a healthy level. Cut someone else some slack! Many of us in our hurried, harried world are too quick to criticize and find fault with others.
Like most thinking patterns this stems from habits of mind. Pay attention to your habits. Pay attention to your thinking. This is called meta-cognition (thinking about your thinking). I was stunned to read recently that 50% of the population never engages in meta-cognition.
Is it any wonder we're stressed? If you are constantly critical of co-workers, your spouse, the kids, bad drivers, and strangers...guess what...you teach yourself to be critical of you! Stress is the result.
I think most of us ask too much of others and of ourselves. Most people I know need a break. The funny thing is, when you give someone a break…you get a break as well. The best way to lower your own stress is to lower someone else's stress. When you make a positive and sustained effort to praise more and criticize less, you have developed one the most powerful and healthy habits of mind. This is good for your brain.
Terry Small, B.Ed., M.A., is a master teacher and Canada's leading learning skills specialist. He is the author of the Brain Bulletin with over 34,000 subscribers worldwide.