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Stress is in many contexts both useful and healthy. Chronic stress is the problem because it can affect how our brain works and, among other things, increase the risk of depression. Here you see a video that explains how stress affects the brain, and the importance of taking control of stress - before stress takes control of us.  

 Image: Dreamstime (with licence)

The video was released on youtube by TED Ed. In the video, they tell: 

You sleep poorly, feel irritable, are forgetful, and feel overwhelmed and isolated. Do not worry. You're probably just very stressed

Stress is not just bad, they elaborate. Stress is a useful reaction, for example, to gain new energy, to stay focused, to exercise, or when giving a presentation or speech in front of an audience. However, they emphasize that it is the chronic stress that is the problem, which for example can come from being overworked, long-term conflicts at home, and much more.

The chronic stress creates changes in the brain. It creates changes both in the brain's structure, function, and even down to affecting the genetic material.


Here you see the movie



Possible consequences of chronic stress

In the video, they say that the stress response is controlled by the brain. It begins in the hypothalamus, and follows the so-called HPA axis. When your brain perceives a stressful situation, the HPA axis is immediately and automatically activated, and the hormone cortisol is released.

High levels of cortisol in the body over time can create changes in the brain. 

More specifically, this chronic stress can lead to an increased activation of the nerve pathways in the part of the brain called the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system, and which helps to regulate emotions. In addition, the activation in the hippocampus is weakened, which, among other things, is important for learning and memory, and which also plays a role in the activation of the HPA axis. This impairment can make new learning difficult, and may be associated with an increased risk of depression and Alzheimer's disease.

Chronic stress can weaken the brain both by inhibiting connections between neurons (nerve cells) and can affect the frontal lobe, which is the area in the brain that has to do with executive functions (control functions), eg in terms of staying focused, planning , and to direct attention. 


Early, sensitive care has a protective effect

Reference is made to animal studies that have been carried out and which show that early, sensitive care has a protective effect in relation to developing chronic stress, while early experiences with inadequate care increase the vulnerability to chronic stress later in life.

These are referred to as epigenetic changes, which means that experiences we have made in our lives and that change our genes. That is, these life experiences create changes in how genes are expressed.

According to the video, research findings have also been made which indicate that this increased vulnerability to stress is also something that can be inherited.


How to prevent the effects of chronic stress?

Finally, they tell in the video that there are ways to reverse the potential harmful effects of long-term cortisol in the body as a result of chronic stress. They refer to the importance of physical exercise and relaxation techniques (meditation). 

Their message is that there is a lot to be gained from trying to gain control of stress, before stress takes control of us.



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