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How stress affects our brain

Quite simply, you are what you think. Jo Marchant, in her recent book, Cure, an investigation into the healing power of the mind explains that;

“If you play violin for eight hours a day, then the parts of the brain responsible for helping you to play the violin will get larger. If you’re thinking stressful thoughts for the whole day then those parts of the brain are going to get larger and other parts of the brain will deteriorate.”

Stress changes the shape of our brain

Many of you may have observed the recent support for, “mindfulness” from the science community. Before I explain the concept of mindfulness, it is important to understand why we need it. Researchers have now found that prolonged stress, changes the shape of our brain. The “stressed brain” will typically have a larger amygdala and a smaller hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes threatening situations. This is useful if there is a real threat, however an increased size can cause the body to be on high alert all the time, when it doesn’t need that reaction. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are areas of the brain involved in rational thought and planning, therefore a reduced size decreases our ability to be rational. Stress is controlling us.

What can we do?

Making our lives less stressful is obvious but not so practical. Firstly, many of us exist within industries that are stressful by nature, deadlines, meetings, clients, funding ect and trying to change any of these variables would be near impossible. Secondly, stress comes in all forms and at all times and will hit us the hardest when we least expect it. Realistically we cannot prepare for every curve ball life decides to throw our way. But we can, through mindfulness, implement mental coping mechanisms  to transform those on the spot, blood-draining-from-face panics into rational, calm deliberations. As most times there is an alternative to “my world is ending” we are just too stressed to see it.

Mindfulness; cure for stress

Mindfulness is a pharmaceutical free, mind enriching way to build stronger mental health. At its core, and by no means is this comprehensive, mindfulness is a thought process that teaches us an objective awareness of our thoughts. Without realising, many of us (myself included) are encumbered with negative thought processes such as “I can’t do (X) because (Y) will happen.” With a greater awareness of our thought dispositions we become masters of our own minds, and not the other way round.

To find our more about how mindfulness can help you read here

By Leila Mezoughi on behalf of PCA Law