Regardless of age, gender or profession, stress troubles us by weakening our immune system and fluctuating our blood pressure, weight, digestion system, hormonal balance, and energy levels. Our entire metabolism is vulnerable to stress; it even affects our brains by disturbing an area involved in learning as well as forming memories: the hippocampus.
Scientists claim that high doses of stress:
- make it difficult to remember facts or lists;
- alter autobiographic memories; and
- disturb procedural memory, which holds the know-how to our skills.
It seems the greater the stress levels are, the larger the effects. For example, when our stress levels reach the point of trauma, a physical reduction in the volume of the hippocampus can be observed. It has been proved that sexually abused women demonstrate up to a 5% decrease in size in this area of the brain.
What if we cannot avoid stress, regardless of how much we try? Is there anything that can be done to prevent or reverse the damage to our brains?
The good news is: yes, there is. Since the hippocampus is unique in the brain with its capacity to regenerate neurons, it’s possible to reverse memory dysfunctions. Cognitive therapy is known to help with this procedure.
If you don’t have the time or the resources to visit a therapist, you can try tricking your brain out of stress. But how? Here are three suggestions:
- Do one thing at a time: More and more scientists prove that there is no such thing as multi-tasking. What we actually are doing is partial-tasking in short and repetitive orders, which may overload our short-term memory and cause agitation in the brain. Try doing things one by one: it will help your brain to focus better and recognise the tasks you completed in that day.
- Stop over-analysing, criticising, or judging: Keep telling your brain that you’re happy with yourself. It may not believe you first, but it will eventually. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to brainwash ourselves. It’s what advertising agencies have been doing for decades. Unfortunately, our brains are far more naïve than we think.
- Stare at some green scenery, even if it’s your desktop background: For our brains, there is not much difference between looking at a picture and seeing it for real. That’s why we get scared when we watch horror movies. Don’t we know it’s just a movie – no one is murdered for real? Of course we do, but our brains don’t. The same amount of neurons fire in our brains when we look at a pen, or when we imagine a pen. Therefore, look at pictures with pleasant scenery as often as you can. In particular, the colour green is known to have a calming effect, so choosing the picture of a green landscape is highly recommended.
S.E. Sever is a UCL scholar with an MSc in Cognitive Perceptual and Brain Sciences. She writes scientific articles as well as stories in verse. Her first novel will be published in the UK and US in 2012. For further information please visit http://sesever.com/