Stress is a reality of life that everyone faces. Whether’s it’s the trials of achieving a post-secondary education, being fired or laid off from a position or trouble at home, it’s difficult not to get overwhelmed by daily life.
But is all stress the same?
According to Bruce McEwen, a professor of neuroscience at Rockefeller University, it’s not. Stress systems are put in place to help the body adapt and survive. The good side of these systems is the feeling of exhilaration when the body and mind work to help you rise up to a challenge. But the bad side, also known as toxic stress, happens when the stress is intolerable.
If you don’t have the proper resources; be it the internal (personal strength) or external (friends), to help you cope with stress, it can be unbearable. This type of pressure can lead to inflammation of the brain that impairs both its growth and ability to form new connections. The other side of high stress levels is the release of the hormone cortisol. Both good and bad stress trigger it’s release but when too much cortisol is present in the body, the negative effects go beyond just gaining weight.
So what can you do to prevent this toxic stress from wreaking havoc on your overall health?
McEwen suggests a proper diet, being physically active, getting regular sleep, building a system of social support and meditating are crucial for fighting off the bad stress, which in turn, promotes healthy brain growth. In addition, breathing exercises, yoga and sex have also been shown to reduce cortisol to normal levels.
For a more in depth look at the good stress/bad stress dichotomy, here’s a link to the full interview.
Also, check out this article for more on the effects and management of stress.