Long Term Neurological Effects of Stress

A common complaint often expressed in the clinic is stress. This is not unusual as stress affects everyone to varying degrees as discussed previously. The real question is: What is the long term effect on the brain when a person is under constant stress? The answer may provide clarity into the actions of those that are exposed to any amount of stressors without respite.

Research has shown that two things occur when a person is under stress for a long period of time:

1) The pre frontal cortex, the area responsible for cognitive ability, decision making and moderation of social behaviour amongst other things, shrinks in size.

2) The amygdala, almond shaped parts of the limbic brain responsible for emotional responses increases in size.

This means that being under any amount of stress for an extended duration of time will lead to having a more emotional response towards a situation and a lesser ability to solve the problem itself. For example a person may have not received an important email at work because the sender made an honest mistake. The normal reaction would be to contact the sender and request the email however if a person has been under any amount of stress for an extended duration of time the reaction may be to have an angry outburst and stew on the situation for an extended period of time which would add more stress to the equation.

The good news is that the effects of stress are very reversible meaning that pre frontal cortex and the amygdala can return to their natural sizes if the person is removed from the source of stress or at least given an extended respite. Every day activity such as exercise and the pursuit of a hobby are very useful to assist in these situations and a weekly acupuncture session can also help to relieve the strain. As mentioned previously the use of electronics is not a recommended way to alleviate stress as it can create a negative feedback loop of short term dopamine release.

In conclusion, any extended exposure to stress without respite can cause a person to have an overly emotional response and lower their ability to solve problems as stress causes the prefrontal cortex to shrink and the amygdala to expand however these effects can be reversed when a person is removed from the source of stress or has measures to counteract it.

If you require assistance with stress please do not hesitate to contact us.

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