Gaining Control over a Stressed BrainJul 30, 2021 11:00AM ● By Veena Verma-Dzik
The worst type of life stress is one that we feel we either have no ability to influence or control, or when we believe we cannot influence our sense of well-being and safety. Studies have shown that women struggle with stress more than men. Millennials and Generation Xers are reporting a great deal of stress, and those who struggle with their identity and face discrimination and social biases are afflicted by an enormous amount of stress.
Our Brains Under Stress
When stress occurs, the emotional center of the brain, the amygdala, sends a signal to the hypothalamus, the command center of our brain. A signal is then sent to the adrenal glands to activate the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. Once activated, a series of hormones is released to create the stress response. As we all know, cortisol is our greatest stress managing hormone. Cortisol serves its purpose in a healthy, natural way by helping metabolize glucose, controlling blood pressure and, of course, aiding in our “fight, flight or freeze” response.
Over periods of chronic stress, the fight, flight or freeze response cannot turn off. This causes a downward spiral in our health, leading to anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, heart disease, digestive issues and memory impairment. In terms of the health of our brains, studies show that under chronic stress and elevated cortisol, the volume of our brain decreases in size. In other words, our brains actually shrink. We may not even realize the progression of this physical toll on our bodies and brain health. However, there are solutions.
What Can We Do to Manage Stress and Protect Cognitive Health?
Although most stressful events are more than likely out of our control, we do have the strength and capability of grasping control of our mental and cognitive health. There are many supplements that are supported by research that have been shown to be extremely helpful in the health of our brains and management of stress.
Let’s take a look at some supplements and other tips for better cognitive health.
Turmeric. If one is only going to take one supplement, consider turmeric. It has received a great deal of credit for its many benefits and is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. The main active constituent in turmeric, curcumin, is highly recognized for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-hyperlipidemic, antimicrobial and anti-tumor activities. The effect of curcumin on the brain is that it increases a hormone called Brain Derived Growth Factor, which helps improve memory and is beneficial in neurodegenerative diseases.
Ashwagandha. “The scripture of longevity”, the supplement Ashwagandha is not only beneficial for cognitive health, but it is an adaptogen which balances cortisol and helps our bodies adapt to stress. It balances the activity of the adrenal glands and the thyroid. It further provides benefits to the immune system, improves memory, boosts stamina and alleviates anxiety.
L-theanine. An amino acid found in green tea, L-theanine has been shown to be useful for both anxiety and memory. Randomized, controlled trials and cross-over studies have presented evidence that l-theanine is beneficial in reducing anxiety and in improving memory and attention. Furthermore, it decreases high levels of cortisol associated with stress.
Tea. Safe and easy to take for children, adolescents and adults, teas are especially useful for people who are very sensitive when they take medications or herbal medicine. Start off with one bag in a cup of water and then slowly increase it to as many as three bags until relief is felt. Some great teas which help ease anxiety and stress are lemon balm, passionflower, gotu kola and rose tea.
Diet and exercise. Incorporating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet along with daily exercise is the foundation. It is important to take the time to quiet the brain through meditation, yoga, breathing exercises or even listening to relaxing music or a podcast. “Niksen” is an art practiced in the Dutch culture that simply involves nothing. It is the art of doing nothing. In our culture, it is highly underrated, but all humans need quiet down-time to de-stress.
Laughter is another natural way to alleviate stress and release those feel-good hormones. A hearty laugh lowers blood pressure and is equivalent to 15 minutes of physical activity.
Dr. Veena Verma-Dzik, ND, FIAMA Naturopathic Doctor for Insight Counseling, is board-certified and a certified medical acupuncturist who is highly experienced in treating acute and chronic health conditions. Some of her specialties include women’s health, ADD/ADHD, GI conditions, MTHFR, Lyme disease and co-infections, mood imbalances, allergies, fatigue, and hormonal imbalances. Connect at Insight Counseling, in Ridgefield, at 203-431-9726
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Liz Jorgensen has 30 year’s experience with adolescent and adult psychotherapy and counseling. She is a nationally recognized expert in counseling, particularly in engaging resistant tee... Read More »