April 27


Manage Stress To Avoid Dementia

By Rachel Haverkos

April 27, 2020

Did you know that the ability to manage stress could help you stay sharp?

Managing stress can help you to avoid dementia, such as your grandmother, or my grandmother, had, and can help you to keep your brain healthy and agile for life.

If You Manage Stress, You Protect Your life

Perhaps you didn’t realize avoiding dementia was possible. Maybe you have a doctor, or friends, who still think of dementia as if it’s a disease like tuberculosis, which you somehow “catch.”

Or perhaps the concept of dementia developing over a period of decades is new to you.

And the idea that a number of factors (approximately 40) all play a role in how well your brain functions over time – many of which we can control.

Be Inspired To Act

Research shows that stress affects the brain in at least 12 (negative) ways.

Since my intention is to inspire you to action, rather than to have you stress about stress, I’ll mention just a few here. And I’ll provide you with an “antidote” action you can take, so that you’ll offset these negative effects of stress, and feel empowered as you read.

Stress Scrambles Your Brain, Making It Harder To Think

Ever notice that when you’re late for an appointment, it’s harder to find your keys? And where did you put those papers you just printed? Getting out the door becomes a scramble.

That’s because, we’re right; when we’re stressed it really is harder to think straight. To make the best choices.

The reason is that when our hearts send a chaotic signal to our brain (created by our negative emotional reaction of stress), the signals then sent from the thalamus to other parts of our brain are not coordinated. They’re inefficient. We’re not “in the flow.”

Our reaction times slow. Judgement? Impaired. Memory? Slower, if we can think of that word at all. Concentration? Poor.

Over time, if we remain stressed, we get used to ourselves being compromised. Not so smart. Our sense of identity can be affected.

Antidote: One of the best solutions is to turn to HeartMath tools, known for their stress busting ability. I’d choose the Quick Coherence technique, as described here in this article 14 Ways To Access Stress Relief Using Heartmath.

It helps shift the signal being sent from my heart to my brain. It sounds simple, yet its effects are powerful. Try it!

Stress Depletes The Neurotransmitters Dopamine And Serotonin.

What are these, and why is this important?

Neurotransmitters send signals from one nerve cell (neuron) in the brain to another. This is how much communication occurs throughout our brains.

When we’re low in serotonin, we’re more likely to experience depression. Feeling heavy. Down.

That’s because serotonin is frequently referred to as the “feel good” chemical, because of it’s role in our overall sense of well-being. When we’re low, it’ harder to look at the bright side of things. We may turn to sugar, alcohol, or other substances to comfort ourselves.

Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that transfers signals from one neuron to another. It plays a varied, wide role in our physical and mental health.

Having less dopamine as a result of stress may cause us to seek drugs or other “thrills” in order to get a high, as dopamine relates to the “pleasure center” in our brains.

So our brains are then in direct danger from the lack of needed dopamine. And they’re at risk from the poor choices we may make to compensate for the lack of reward we feel.

Either way, we can end up feeling down, and unmotivated to do what needs to be done. This makes it hard to take good care of our brains.

Antidote: As you’ll read below, exercise has the ability to help us manage stress via several avenues. Getting out in daylight, soon after we wake, can help keep our biological clock properly set, and can help us get both Vitamin D, a support for serotonin, and to make more serotonin itself. Exercising at this time has many benefits! If this isn’t possible, sitting under a a full-spectrum lamp has been found to be effective in managing mood. (You may wish to read more about this here).

As for dopamine, catch yourself doing things right throughout the day. Give yourself several seconds of celebration for your small victories, as described in the work of BJ Fogg, a Standford University research associate and behavior scientist.

This can be as simple as a quick thumbs us, while saying to yourself, “Good Job,” and genuinely feeling appreciation for your accomplishment.

Excess Cortisol Interferes With Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF)

Did you know that it’s normal for nearly 9,000 brain cells (neurons) to die every day? And that certain conditions, such as stress, or dementia, can cause a much greater death of neurons, especially in the area of the hippocampus, where memories are stored?

Stress causes us to lose more brain cells than is typical, because our high cortisol levels cause new “replacement” brain cells to die.

Yes, it’s true that our brains secrete BDNF, which is like a “fertilizer” for the brain – Dr. Mark Hyman, best-selling author, calls it “Miracle Grow for the Brain.”

But the question is, how to have more BDNF, and protect the BDNF that we do have, from the ravages of cortisol, so that our new cells can survive and thrive?

Antidote: Fortunately, there is an antidote, already mentioned above. Exercise. Yup, according to Dr. Datis  Kharrazian, author of “Why Isn’t My Brain Working,” all exercise is good for the brain, for a variety of reasons. But in particular, high intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise especially boosts the production (and survival) of BDNF and new neurons.

Manage Stress With HIIT

How to perform HIIT? This approach involves alternating short bursts of high intensity exercise with periods of medium intensity exercise, along with an appropriate warm up and cool down.

This is great if you’re crunched for time, because in little time you can get great conditioning results.

Check with your doctor before beginning any type of exercise program.

Let’s say you already walk for 20 minutes most days per week. To convert this to an HIIT program, after a warm up, you can walk fast, to the point where you cannot talk while walking, for 30 seconds.

Then, slow down to a less intense “medium” paced walk for 30 to 45 seconds.

Repeat this cycle 3 to 10 times, to tolerance and time available. And experiment with the length of your high-intensity “bursts,” as needed. Remember that you want to push it but not overdo it.

So Now You Know How To Manage Stress

Hopefully you’re starting to get some idea of how serious the consequences of stress are on your brain.

And you’re also getting an idea of what you can do to take charge of your brain health, so that you can depend upon it for life.

Which actions above do you most need to implement?

Pick one and get started. You can do this. Your brain will thank you!

What are some of the things you do to manage stress? Let me know in the comments below.

Rachel Haverkos

About the author

Rachel’s background in occupational therapy and health coaching contribute to her lifelong interest in brain health. People wanting to stay sharp hire her to help protect & enhance their brain, because they want to avoid dementia but don’t know how. So she gives them the knowledge, clarity, and confidence needed to be their vibrant best self, for life. Through Vibrant Brain For Life, she shares evidence-based tools, strategies, and resources online and in person. When not at her desk, she’s likely enjoying the wildflowers of Sedona, or greeting guests at her Airbnb.

You might also like

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Want To Keep Your Brain Sharp?
Join Our Better Brain Club

"the place to be for support, inspiration and direction"