Your brain on stress...not a pretty picture

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We've all heard about the studies being done regarding stress. And we know the results are not good. We are an overstressed, over-worked group of individuals. And it is affecting our health, our decision making, and our ability to accomplish complex tasks.

Stress affects our brains in real and serious ways.

The easiest way to talk about what stress does is to talk about how it transfers the focus of brain activity from the front of our brains to the back.

The front of our brains is where complex tasks and problem solving happens.

The back is basically our lizard brain; it is all about fighting or fleeing. Rudimentary.

Long term stress changes the way chemicals interact in the brain and makes it so more attention is given to the lizard brain. This is bad news if you are in a job that requires a lot of critical thinking, like being a lawyer, doctor, or teacher.

These jobs require pretty extensive brain function, but they are also careers that tend to be high-stress. So they need the most brain capacity and often individuals in these fields are working with the least. It is a big problem.

In order for all of us to lower our long-term stress, we need to better understand our triggers and the areas we control and can adapt. A few tips to reducing your stress:

  1. Know what you can change. A lawyer may not be able to reduce her work hours, but maybe she can try to schedule her hardest work for in the mornings when her brain is functioning at its highest for the day. Maybe you can't change when you get things done, but have the ability to adapt the environment to be more conducive.
  2. Set small goals. Deciding you are going to start doing an hour of yoga every morning isn't likely to reduce your stress by much. If you can accomplish that, it may. But most of us will fall short of that goal and stress over our failure. Rather than aiming high, start small. Decide to get in a yoga session once a week. Or maybe start your day with 5 minutes.
  3. Eat better. The foods we eat affect our bodies in a number of ways. Eating better, even in small ways, can give you more energy and improve your immune system; add up all the ways eating better improves your life and you will see reduced overall stress.

No matter how you decide to start the process, your mind and body will thank you for every little bit of stress you can rid your life of.

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