You already know that alcohol is toxic to your brain (and all the cells in your body), but did you know that stress can kill brain cells? It’s not all stress though, we’re specifically talking about chronic stress and the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Don’t worry though, getting to the point where you do damage to your brain with stress takes time, there’s plenty of things you can do before things get out of control.
Life is full of things that can stress us out. This is why we evolved with mechanisms to deal with this stress. First, there’s fight or flight. If you love our adrenaline pieces, then you know the story! This reaction happens when you encounter a bear, are about to take a test, or are suddenly struck by road rage when some guy cuts you off. Your brain is priming your body to either take on the bear/test/bad driver or run from it. This type of stress is short-lived and doesn’t harm your brain. Some people are even addicted to this feeling and we call them adrenaline junkies.
Cortisol is often called the stress hormone because it works with adrenaline, though it can circulate in your system long-term. During fight or flight, adrenaline opens up your airways and increases your heart rate. Cortisol is in charge of the release of glucose. After all, what’s the point of more oxygen and more blood circulation if there’s no energy for the muscles? So, on one hand, as much as it gets a bad rep in popular media, cortisol is necessary for your body to properly fight or flight.
The problem with stress today is that we aren’t running from bears or fighting another tribe. Modern stress is constant, persistent, and corrosive. Everything from being on social media and seeing pages and pages of content that irritate you to worrying about bills, mortgages, or slogging through a job you don’t love because it pays well. We didn’t evolve to deal with modern stresses, so our body copes the best way it knows how – producing cortisol. Over time, this stress hormone disrupts synapse function, kills brain cells, and even reduces the size of the brain.
The best way to beat stress is to find out what is stressing you out and eliminate it. If it’s social media, maybe it’s time to sign off or delete that account. If it’s a job you hate, maybe it’s time to start redoing your resume. While there are productive (exercise) and destructive (drinking) band-aids, stress goes away when the stressor does. Our cortisol necklace and our brain necklace is a nice reminder of this. Purchase them for yourself or for a friend. They also make great gifts for endocrinologists, psychologists, someone going through stressful times, and starry-eyed pre-med (stressed out) students.
written by Science with Evie