Stress and Brain Health

Stressed senior by Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Written by Nicole Scheidl

July 20, 2021

Spirituality addresses the need for us to slow down, to look at our inner life, and to reduce our levels of stress.

By engaging in a slower and more reflective life, we can impact our brain health in a positive way. The brain demands stimulation, but it also functions best when it has rhythm and symmetry. So have time to slow down and time to keep the brain energized.

Impact of Stress

In this post, I want to consider the impact of stress on brain health. Animal research shows that stressful environments can negatively impact the brain. Stress caused structural damage to the hippocampus, leading to memory problems.

Research on the human brain shows similar effects.

We also know that individuals with chronic anxiety often have memory problems. This supports the theory that stress can have a negative effect on brain function.

Therapeutic work with individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has proven positive. Their cognition can return to near normal or normal levels with successful therapy. This indicates that damage from chronic stress is reversible. It also highlights the power of brain plasticity.

Out of Our Control

Stress is part of our lives. But, stress becomes problematic when it is about something we can’t control.

One helpful way to create control is by reframing the situation. Dr. Kevin Majeres of Harvard University describes reframing as:

 “deliberately discovering how a perceived threat is actually an opportunity.”

Reframing is a great way to control stress. Instead of looking at the stressful situation as an out-of-control problem, look at it as an opportunity. An opportunity to grow in a skill or a virtue.

You may find it incredibly stressful to deal with your computer. Your brain may completely shut down when you have to sort out banking documents. Or a sore knee can make getting around frustrating. Even worse may be the stress that comes from a bad health diagnosis.

senior frustrated with computer

Reframing

Reframing can be a way to reduce the negative stress associated with the challenge.

For example, you could decide that the sore knee is a signal to pay more attention to your leg strength. The pain could be the impetus you need to embark on an exercise regime to strengthen your quad muscles.

Or maybe you face a tough health challenge. I don’t want to diminish the pain and stress you face but it might be the point at which you focus on relationships. Certainly, the past 18 months of COVID lockdowns became a time for a great priority reset.

So how do you decide what is causing you stress and needs reframing?

What do you complain about?

One way to find the positive is to widen the context of your view. Ask yourself, what could I learn? How could I grow? What am I called to change?

It may be a physical complaint.

I was having difficulty walking down the stairs in the morning. My knees hurt. And I mentally complained with every step down the stairs. When I stopped to reframe the problem, I realized my body was telling me to pay attention to it. I needed to lose some weight and improve my leg strength. That started me on a new exercise regime. I also improved my eating habits. And it no longer hurts to walk down the stairs.

It may be an emotional complaint.

During COVID we have all been more isolated and lonelier. It is much more challenging to connect with others. This time with a smaller social circle can be an opportunity to deepen relationships. Get creative when it comes to connecting. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Have a regular walk date with a friend.

Deeper relationships can turn this challenging time into cherished time.

We all complain about things we want to avoid. So this week, list the things you complain about and spend some time reflecting on them. Reframe these complaints to discover the opportunities within them.

Dive More Deeply

If you want to dive more deeply into this concept of reframing and its impact, watch the video below:

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