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The Impact of Stress on Brain Health_Final

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>> Hi and welcome back. It's great to see you again. You know that stress can wreak havoc on your physical health, but did you know that stress can have a big impact on your brain too? Yes, it's true. Your brain is designed to respond to stress. When it registers a stressful event, it responds by gearing up automatic reflexes and slowing down higher level thinking. This uses up a lot of calories. Also, your body is innately designed to protect you. It works to remember the things that caused you stress, so that it can recognize and be prepared to deal with a threatening situation if it occurs again. Consequently, your memory becomes focused on the risks and dangers in the environment and not on the details themselves. This is why victims of an acutely stressful incident, like a car crash, don't remember the details and often can't piece together exactly what happened. The brain goes into fight or flight mode and it focuses on survival rather than making memories. This phenomenon is intentionally designed by the body. All mental resources are devoted to thinking clearly and focusing only on what's needed to escape or survive. Let's take a closer look at how this process plays out in the body. When the body detects stress, it sends a signal to a part of the brain called amygdala that there is something to be worried about. The amygdala then signals the hypothalamus which activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis or HPA axis. This then instructs the adrenals to release stress hormones including epinephrine and cortisol. The amygdala is located in the middle of the brain, it's in charge of emotions and it's super efficient. In fact, it processes the signals so fast that often we're not even aware of the situation before the HPA axis has been triggered. The hippocampus is shaped like an arc and also sits in the middle of the brain. The hippocampus stores new memories. In stressful situations, it will learn the signs of danger so that it recognizes them even faster the next time they show up. Together, the amygdala and hippocampus makeup the limbic system, which is the part of the brain in charge of processing and making sense of all incoming information. When the limbic system interprets those signals as stress, it talks to the hypothalamus and activates the HPA axis. Cortisol receptors exist throughout the brain but the highest numbers of receptors are located in the amygdala and the hippocampus. Subsequently, these are the ones most affected by stress. These hypersensitive parts of the brain send a signal to shutoff higher thinking, and instead, concentrate on being able to move and react quickly. What happens overtime in a person who experiences chronic stress is that this pathway becomes hardwired and difficult to get around. The brain becomes hyperreactive and is always geared up for constant stress and ready for danger. As a result, higher brain functions, like the ability to concentrate or focus begin to suffer. This is typically what's going on inside of your clients who come to you experiencing "brain fog" which includes difficulty concentrating, confusion, and forgetfulness. Going about life in this condition can lead to a further decline in cognitive function with symptoms like memory loss, anxiety, and depression. Ordinarily, there is a feedback system in the brain. When cortisol levels are still high after a threat has passed, the body responds by breaking down the cortisol and the stress reaction ends. However, when the brain becomes hardwired like this, the receptors become resistant similar to insulin resistance. This is known as glucocorticoid receptor resistance. The cortisol levels stay high but the body's response to the cortisol becomes blunted or muted. The receptors in the brain as well as in the cells of the immune system, no longer respond to cortisol as efficiently as they used to. This can result in increased infection, depression, anxiety, and brain fog. An effect of this condition is a decrease in the formation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus. This appears to affect mood and can contribute to depression and anxiety. Interestingly, it's been found that about half of people with depression have HPA axis dysfunction along with high levels of cortisol. This could have many possible implications about the relationship between stress, depression, and brain chemistry. If chronic stress or trauma happens during childhood, it can permanently affect the cells in the hippocampus, increasing the risk of later depression and anxiety. Ongoing stress also affects stem cells. These are unspecialized cells that still have the potential to decide what kind of specific cell to become. Chronic stress essentially flips a switch in stem cells turning them into a type of cell that decreases connections to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that improves learning and memory. This is how stress negatively impacts learning and memory. An increase in amount and size of these cells has been linked to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, most neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are connected to a decline in neuroplasticity which we'll talk about in just a moment. When you're working with a client who is exhibiting symptoms like those we've described, gently enquire whether they experienced childhood trauma or abuse, or if they've dealt with an ongoing stressful situation as an adult. If a client discloses a history of abuse or trauma, be sure to stay within your scope of practice as a Health Coach. If they're still struggling to process the trauma or if it's resulted in mental health issues, you'll want to refer them to a mental health professional who is equipped to help someone with things like depression or PTST. To recap what we've learned so far, we discussed the body's stress response system which is intelligently designed to prepare for and react to stressors. However, when this process is overworked, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and impairments in learning and memory. Moving forward, let's talk about how you can help your clients get themselves off of this fast track to depression and other mental health conditions. Stress levels need to be managed in order to undo this hardwiring from early childhood and chronic stress. While it's impossible to prevent stress, it is possible to decrease its impact on the brain. We can't control the world around us but we can control how we react to it. The brain has the ability to be plastic, meaning that it can change how it functions depending on the circumstances. The medical term for this is neuroplasticity and it's defined as the ability of the brain to modify its own structure and function when it perceives changes within the body or the external environment. When chronic stress creates hardwiring, neuroplasticity can be lost. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to improve neuroplasticity while you still have it. I'll now share with you four types of activities you can suggest to your clients to help them preserve and improve neuroplasticity. First is meditation. Yet, another benefit of meditation, it's one of the best ways to increase neuroplasticity. There is now significant research showing that meditation has profoundly positive effects on the brain. Mindfulness meditation where your clients spend 10 to 15 minutes per day just noticing their thoughts and feelings in a quite environment can help to increase their brain's resilience and ultimately their resilience to stress. Mindfulness based stress reduction is a form of meditation in particular that's been shown to increase grey matter in the brain, especially in the hippocampus. This helps to break down the hardwiring caused by stress and make the brain more resilient. Next, we have learning new skills. Learning something new teaches the brain a new pathway to handle change. When you're consistently doing the same things all the time, the brain gets stuck in a rut of following the same neural pathways over and over again. So when you're consistently engaging in stressful situations, this wires the brain to automatically react as though everything were stress. Overtime, a pattern of chronic stress develops and the brain has a hard time responding any other way. This is why people who are high-strung get stressed out over the littlest things. They've actually wired their brains for stress. Learning something new, especially something fairly challenging can retrain the brain and create newer more flexible pathways. Explore with your stressed out clients what hobbies they're interested but haven't pursued. Is it learning a language or a skill, such as knitting or painting? Maybe they've always wanted to learn to play violin, learn how to juggle or dance the tango. Even something as simple as learning how to play a new game can stimulate those pathways. There are so many ways your clients can challenge themselves to think in new ways about new things to improve their brain capacity, so encourage them to explore new options. Having fun and tapping into their creativity will only serve to further reduce their stress levels. Third is physical activity. If you're looking for another surefire way to improve neuroplasticity, try getting physical. Movement helps the brain overcome hardwiring. Activities with fluid movements, such as tai chi, qigong, and yoga can induce a calm state and decrease stress. These kinds of fluid movement activities combine learning something new with a meditative state which can go a long way toward opening up new pathways in the brain, avoiding hardwiring that leads to depression and anxiety. If a client is resistant because they're out of shape, let them know that it doesn't need to be an intense workout for them to reap the benefits. Even a 30-minute walk will improve the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. To get into a meditative state, suggest your clients that they pay close attention to the scenery when taking a walk, going for a run, or riding their bike. Ask them to notice what's changed or looks different since the last time they took that path. Taking different routes during their exercise routine or even on their drive home from work, encourages exploration and will challenge your clients to further investigate their surroundings. Fourth, we have social interaction. Last but not least, spending time with friends in a social environment can help to reduce stress on the brain. For both, introverts and extroverts, getting out and having fun can help keep the brain from focusing on stress. This doesn't necessarily mean a late night out at the bar for bottomless margaritas, it means encouraging your clients to engage in activities they enjoy with people they enjoy which looks different from person to person. For some, a night out at a concert with a group of friends is fun and relaxing, to others this scenario might be totally overwhelming, and instead, they'd seek enjoyment from meeting with one close friend for breakfast. Whatever it is, help your clients identify and tap into the type of social interactions that leave them feeling joyful and refreshed, and encourage them to plan and schedule time for socialization. Humans are creatures of habit. We have a tendency to gravitate to people and situations that we feel comfortable with, especially as we get older. You'll likely have clients who object to socialization saying they'd rather stay at home or that they don't have any friends. As we age, it can feel harder to meet new people, so they maybe afraid or unsure of how to create new social connections. Tap into what's going on for them and what's holding them back. Then help them create a vision of what an ideal social scenario would be for them and the steps to achieve it. Whether someone has one or a hundred friends, it can be refreshing to encourage them to make one or two connections that are completely outside of their social circle. Different ways they can do this include joining a meetup group, a book club, or a volunteer work. So to recap, we just discussed four practical ways your clients can begin to build new neural pathways and increase brain plasticity. These are meditation, learning a new skill, exercising, and social interaction. This wraps up our discussion on how HPA axis dysfunction affects the brain. We talked about how the brain can become hardwired into a chronic stress state and how over time the brain's reaction to stress becomes muted. We also discussed how this could affect your client showing up as depression, anxiety, and brain fog, and even progressing into more serious degenerative conditions like Alzheimer's. The good news is that there are ways to break down that hardwiring and reprogram the brain to be more resilient. The most important lesson here is that stress doesn't need to dominate your client's brain function. There are simple and practical ways to manage stress by building new neural pathways. Pick one of the four stress management techniques we discussed today to practice this week. Which one will you implement and how exactly will you do it? Head on over to the Facebook group and let us know. Thanks for joining us today, see you in the next lecture.

Video Details

Duration: 13 minutes and 40 seconds
Language: English
License: Dotsub - Standard License
Genre: None
Views: 5
Posted by: ninaz on Mar 25, 2018

The Impact of Stress on Brain Health_Final

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