This is Your Brain on Stress

We've all had those days (and sometimes, months).  Work is crazy, home is wild, school feels like it will never end, and sleep would be so great - if you could just get some!  A few days of the chaotic pace is doable, but a few weeks later, you're cooked.  You're doing something you've done countless times before, and your mind goes blank - you can't find the words. You can't process as quickly as you used to.  You feel foggy.  

 

It's one of the most common complaints I hear from my patients.  I see it in my students and colleagues.  I notice it in myself more than I'd like to admit.  In this 90-mile-an-hour-world we zip through life, often at the expense of our brain function.  Short courses of stress are an inevitable part of the human experience and can even be beneficial as a motivator, but longer-term stress can take its toll.  

 

It is known that chronic stress can have a negative impact on our memory, learning, and processing.  Cortisol, the hormone produced during times of high stress, can literally change the brain tissue and shrink structures responsible for learning and recall.  This makes the brain even more susceptible to stress.

 

So what can we do about it?  Here are a few tips I give my patients (and use myself) when things get overwhelming.

 

First - SLEEP.  Giving your brain and body time to rest - and HEAL - is absolutely crucial.  Sleep must be a priority - a full eight hours for most people.  If you feel guilty about taking the time away from your activities to sleep, just remind yourself that you'll be more effective in everything you do if you are rested.  If you have trouble unwinding, an Epsom salt soak just prior to bedtime is a great way to start the relaxation process.  

 

Next - EAT WELL.  When you're stressed and tired, grabbing those carb-heavy prepared foods seems like an easy way to go.  Unfortunately, the blood sugar dysregulation that results from sweet snacks and unhealthy meals causes a downward spiral of eat-crash-crave-repeat.  Try taking an hour to meal prep for the next few days - you'll save time in the long run, and eat healthier.  If you're on the go and don't have many choices, grab a piece of fruit and some nuts for a quick fill-up.  Your brain will function best with a steady, healthy blood glucose level and adequate nutrients.

 

Absolutely take time out for PHYSICAL ACTIVITY.  Grab a 10 minute walk between classes, take the steps instead of the elevator, steal away for 15 minutes to pull some weeds out of the yard when you get home from work, get up and stretch after 30 minutes of sitting at your desk.  Take some deep breaths, and connect to this body that is working so hard to get you where you need to be.  Getting your blood "moving" will increase your brain's oxygenation and help you feel more alert.

 

Consider adrenal support.  Vitamins, myco-medicinals, and some herbs can be very helpful during times of stress.  Chat with your ND about vitamin and herbal supplements that are safe and effective for your individual needs.

 

Lastly, remember to CONNECT.  Joyful connection boosts hormones that create positive changes in the brain and make you more resilient to stress. Why do you do what you do?  Who do you do it for?  Connect with your friends, family, and yourself to keep perspective on what's most important in this wild and wonderful life.  

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