You know stress is bad for you. It can lead to insomnia, poor sleep, digestive issues, high blood pressure, and headaches. It can also have a negative impact on your mental health, increasing your risk of depression and anxiety. But did you know that stress also affects your cognitive functions?
Stress has been a constant of human existence for millennia. Humans have evolved to have specific reactions to stress, that back in caveman days could mean the difference between life and death. And these reactions are still there, buried in your reptile brain, prompting your fight or flight response, flooding your brain with cortisol and adrenaline. It doesn’t matter whether you’re facing a saber-toothed tiger or an impossible deadline, your brain and your body react in the same way.
Unfortunately, the demands of modern life mean that many people are dealing with chronic stress, keeping those cortisol levels high, which leads to a greater risk of reduced cognitive function, poor memory, and retention, or even dementia.
Here are three ways you can reduce your stress levels and improve your brain health.
Recognize Your Personal Response to Stress – Learn how stress affects you and what your own personal triggers are. Some people deal better with stressors than others. Notice your physical, emotional, and mental health symptoms when you are experiencing stress.
Identify Your Triggers – What stresses you out may be water off a duck’s back from your partner, friend, or colleague. If you can identify what breaks you out in a cold sweat or raises your anxiety levels, then you can anticipate stressful situations and head them off at the pass. Or at the very least learn to manage them better.
Learn to Say No – Most people nowadays feel overstretched and overcommitted. Much of modern stress comes from feeling disempowered and overwhelmed. As well as stress management techniques like meditation and exercise, learning to say ‘no’ confidently and positively is one of the most potent weapons you can use against stress. Once you know what triggers your stress response and how that response affects you, it’s time to make self-care-based choices.
Work out what you want to say ‘yes’ to in your life and let that drive your decision making about what you take on and what you don’t. If you want more time to be with your family, take up a new hobby or exercise, then you can choose whether you want to work late, or take on extra responsibilities.