What Stress Does to Your Brain


Stress is defined as ‘the brain’s response to any demand’. Stress is a part and parcel of life. Stress itself is not bad. But its effects depend on its duration, intensity, and treatment. Neurologists in Karachi call stress the sleepless part of the brain. Because no matter what happens, stress is always present in the hindsight.

Stress can cause a person to work brilliantly and on the other hand, it can be detrimental to health. The brain is the most affected by stress as it is the command center of the body. Stress is not an illness but it is something that is demanding, creates pressure, and hits an individual psychologically as well as physically.

Stress like any other disease can be acute or chronic. Acute stress is the result of a short-term event while recurring events cause chronic stress also known as toxic stress. Now the latter type is the most threatening to one’s mind.

Psychological Effects

Think of stress as the domino effect. It works like a chain reaction that causes one event after another event. The most involved part of the brain during a stress stimulus is the hypothalamus. Hypothalamus creates the urge to fight or flight during a stressful event.

This increases the heart-beat, breathing rate, and gives your body a rush of adrenaline. It is basically the body’s reaction in response to the stress stimuli. The cortisol hormone restores the energy lost in the response. Cortisol levels fall as stress lessens.

Chronic Stress Effects

If you are under stress most of the time that means you probably have high cortisol levels. This can result in cortisol buildup in the brain which can have devastating effects in the long-term. Moreover, stress over time can cause health issues.

High cortisol levels hinder brain functions leading to impairment. Stress is a silent killer which in fact does kill brain cells. It is also suggested that it can also reduce the size of the brain. The prefrontal cortex can shrink due to chronic stress, which means you can suffer from memory loss and loss of the ability to learn.

As the amygdala is responsible for receiving stress signals, the shrinking of the prefrontal cortex can increase its size resulting in an overwhelming amount of incoming stress stimuli. This means that chronic stress can put our mind into a permanent fight or flight state.

High Chance of Mental Illness

Chronic stress can take its toll on the body in the long-run. It can make you prone to mood swings and anxiety disorders. Sometimes stress can send you into the deep pits of depression or cause you to be emotional most of the time.

Long-term stress clearly suggests long-term health effects. It affects neurons production which are necessary for communication and sending signals to different parts of the brain. It also increases myelin production, the excess of which affects the normal functioning of the brain.

Brain Cells Die

We have already established that stress kills brain cells. Studies have suggested that stress affects the hippocampus region of the brain, by effectively killing the region’s neurons. Therefore, stress heavily overshadows your memory, learning, and emotion.

Hippocampus is also responsible for the formation of new brain cells and if it is affected the process of neurogenesis is affected. Even if new neurons are formed stress kills them soon enough.

Brain Size Shrinks

Life-altering events usually have a strong association and connection with stress. Chronic stress increases the chance of mental illness. Prefrontal cortex shrinking is caused due to stress. This means that your emotions and self-control can go haywire at any given moment.

If you can deal with stress in the present, it is just going to accumulate more and more in the future which means it will become increasingly difficult to deal with traumatic events.

Memory Loss

I used to believe that our brain has its own way of dealing with stress and can make bad memories or stressful memories disappear from my mind. But in reality, stress causes us to lose focus and unable to recall what really happened.

Spatial memory is the ability to recall a certain event or information. Chronic stress negatively impacts spatial memory as well as spatial orientation. Exposure to stress will lead you to forget minute details about a certain memory and this memory gap can grow over time.

These are just some of the ways stress can affect your brain. Researches are still being done in the neurological field to understand the stress on a deeper level and maybe someday we might get enough insight to overcome the damage done by stress.