Stress comes up often in my practice. It’s a part of the conversation I have with almost every patient I see. Most of my patients report having moderate to high stress levels, and many are surprised when I determine that their symptoms are likely a result of chronic stress.
When stress is constant, our adrenal glands secrete cortisol too frequently, which can lead to a wide variety of symptoms. Symptoms that have to do with memory and cognition cause fear in many women; they often breathe a sigh of relief when I tell them that the most common cause for changes in brain function is stress.
What chronic stress can do to your brain
Chronic stress from trauma, your job, a difficult relationship – or any situation which causes you stress – can have effect on your brain. These are:
- Disruption in the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help regulate cognitive function and our moods.
- Changes at a cellular level in the hippocampus – this is the part of the brain that controls memory and learning.
- Decreased ability to clean up inflammation and free radicals which can lead to accelerated brain aging.
What you can do about chronic stress
It’s evident that decreasing your stress will affect your memory and cognition in a positive way. We know that women today are dealing with more stress than ever before – more responsibilities, higher expectations, less time and having to manage a constant flow of information. We all have different ways to cope with and manage stress. You may want to consider making a list or keeping a journal of the situations that cause you the most stress. Once you’ve written things down, it may be easier to think about solutions. Here are a few tips that my patients have had great success with:
Eating regularly will keep your blood sugar stable which keeps your brain functioning efficiently. Eating three meals and two snacks per day will keep your brain fueled for learning, paying attention and remembering! Be sure to include lean protein, carbohydrates and good quality fats every time you eat.
Sleep is critical for good brain function. Most adults need seven to nine hours sleep per night. There are wonderful herbs to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. Passionflower, valerian root and chamomile can all be helpful.
While the benefits of exercise cannot be debated for overall health, if exercise is causing stress, you may want to rethink how, where and why you are exercising. Try to find a form of exercise you enjoy, and ones which fit into your lifestyle – both time and location might be important.
Support your body
When your body is under stress, there may be a gap between its nutritional demands and the nutrients you take in through your diet. Please consider taking a high quality multivitamin and omega-3 supplement (Marcellepick.com has specially formulated products to offer). Even without the additional demands stress places on our bodies, it can be difficult to take in the nutrients we need. A body – and brain – under stress needs more.
Take time several times a day to breathe – deeply and mindfully. Deep breathing in through your nose can engage your parasympathetic nervous system which may help keep your brain calm.
Seek out herbal support
You may want to consider herbal support to help decrease the impact of stress on your brain and body. Siberian ginseng, astragalus root, cordyceps, and rhodiola are all good choices.
You can conquer chronic stress
Chronic stress can have a huge impact on your life, but you don’t need to let it control you. Learning how to recognize and address stress on every level will help restore the balance you need.
For more information on this topic, read our article, “Am I Losing My Mind? What You Can Do About Fuzzy Thinking.”