Stress is a natural reaction of our body to anything that we perceive as threatening. It used to help us survive in dangerous situations, such as escaping from predators. However, nowadays, stress is very different. It is not something that only happens occasionally, but rather a constant part of most people’s lives.
In this article, you will learn what happens in your brain when you are stressed and how you can cope with it better.
The Stress Response
The stress response is triggered by three parts of your body:
- The hypothalamus, which is a part of your brain that controls many functions, such as hunger, thirst, sleep, and emotions;
- The pituitary, which is a gland that produces hormones that regulate growth, metabolism, and reproduction;
- The adrenal glands, which are located on top of your kidneys and produce hormones that help you deal with stress.
The first thing that happens when you are stressed is that the adrenal glands release adrenaline. This hormone increases your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and circulating fats. This prepares your body for a fight or flight response. However, if this happens too often or for too long, it can increase your risk of having a stroke or a heart attack.
The stress response also involves another hormone produced by the adrenal glands: cortisol. This hormone helps your body cope with stress by providing energy, reducing inflammation, and suppressing pain. However, high levels of cortisol can also have negative effects on your brain. According to several studies , high levels of cortisol can cause:
- The death of brain cells;
- Change in serotonin levels, which is a neurotransmitter that affects your mood, appetite, sleep, and memory.
How to Cope with Stress
There are many ways to cope with stress. Different strategies may work better for different people. Here are some common ones that you can try:
Physical exercise can help you reduce stress by releasing hormones that make you feel good, such as endorphins and dopamine. It can also improve your physical health, mental health, and self-esteem. You can choose any activity that you enjoy, such as dancing, walking, or training at the gym.
Reach out to your family or friends
Having a good support system is crucial for coping with stress. According to studies , having a good support system can lower your risk of developing mental illness and make you more resilient to stress. Talking to your loved ones can help you vent your emotions, get advice, and find solutions to the problems that are causing stress in your life.
Deep breathing can help you counter the effects of stress on the long term. It can lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. It can also calm your mind and relax your body. To practice deep breathing, you can follow these steps:
- Close your eyes;
- Sit up straight;
- Slowly inhale through your nose;
- Expand your abdomen;
- Exhale through your mouth.
Repeating this exercise for 5 minutes can have an immediate effect on how you feel.