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This is Your Brain on... Stress

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This is Your Brain on... Stress

Stress already has a bad rap in our modern society, but the stress response is a normal, and at times beneficial, bodily response to our environment. The problem is when you become unbalanced and your brain stays in constant stress mode. Did you know that chronically stressing out can actually kill your brain cells? I'm sure that knowing this helps your stress levels considerably. You're welcome.

But despite how we may feel Friday at 4:55 after a really (really) long week, we do not have to be at the mercy of our hormones. Whether you take yoga, practice meditation, or work your feelings out on the basketball court, researchers have found five important reasons you need to keep your stress under control.

1. Adrenal fatigue. While adrenal fatigue as a disorder is still under dispute in the medical community, most medical professionals will tell you that constantly stressing your adrenals—tiny little glands that sit atop your kidneys and produce cortisol, the stress hormone—leads to an imbalance that, left unchecked, can cause all kinds of problems from inflammation to depression.

2. Memory problems. Studies examining memory have found one major constant that affects what and how well we can remember things: stress. The more stressed out we are, the more our short-term and long-term memories are affected. Chronic stress has also been linked to Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the elderly.

3. Increased drug sensitivity. The blood to brain barrier—the thing that decides what passes from your blood into your brain—is remarkably fine tuned. It normally does a great job of letting the good stuff in and keeping the bad stuff out, but something about stress increases the permeability of this barrier, which means that drugs that normally would only affect you in one way may become a lot more potent when they cross into your brain.

4. Aging faster. Look at someone's brain scan and you can't tell their chronological age, but you can tell what age their body thinks it is. The more stress you are under, the "older" your brain looks and acts. All the wrinkle cream in the world can't help you if you are a die-hard stress case.

5. Gender-specific response. Women react differently to stress than men. We veer towards a "tend and be-friend" response rather than the standard "fight-or-flight" reaction. This makes us slightly less vulnerable to stress (go ladies!), but it also means that we can't blindly accept stress-reduction tips based on research done on men.

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