Stress: 3 big reasons it's bad for you, plus 10 little ways to cope with it
Find a Conversation
|Fri, 01-27-2012 - 1:49pm|
1. Stress shrinks the brain and lowers the ability to cope with adversity. Stress is an integral part of all of our lives — so much so, in fact, that we tend to shrug off our racing pulses, insomnia and constant angst as nothing unusual. But researchers say that even everyday stress can be leading to changes in the brain that make us more vulnerable to mental as well as social disorders ranging from depression to addiction and behavioral conditions.
2. Stress makes us overeat. Stress, the hormones it unleashes, and the effects of high-fat, sugary “comfort foods” push people toward overeating.
In the short term, stress can shut down appetite. But if stress persists — or is perceived as persisting — it’s a different story. The adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol, which increases appetite. If the stress doesn’t go away — or if a person’s stress response gets stuck in the “on” position — cortisol may remain elevated.
Stress also seems to affect food preferences. Studies have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both.
3. Stress keeps us stuck in our habits. Stress primes the brain to take automatic action. When under stress, any impulse will be harder to control, whether it's craving Krispy Kremes, or procrastinating on a project.
Neuroscientists sometimes say that we have one brain, but two minds: a mind that makes conscious choices, based on self-reflection and awareness, and a mind that makes automatic responses based on instinct and habit. Each of these "minds" are supported by different neural circuits — different systems of the brain in command of your thoughts, emotions, and actions. Stress selectively inhibits the circuitry of self-awareness and self-control, and activates the circuitry of habit and impulse. The result: When we're under stress at work or at home, we find ourselves feeling stuck and out of control.
Destress your life in 10 easy steps. So how do we cope with all this stress and its unwanted effects? CNN Health explains 10 mindful strategies. And No. 1 is eating chocolate!