Helping our brains deal with stress

How well do we know our own minds? How does stress and the ageing process affect the human brain? and how can we be mindful of this in both our personal and work lives?

Neuroscience has shown that the human brain alters every day from experiences received. The adult brain remains capable of change. Although we develop most of our nerve cells before birth, we carry on growing new ones throughout our lives. New growth seems to be affected by many factors including exercise, stress levels and diet.

Our genes also play their part as they interact with the external environment to influence functions. Neuroscience has also shown that we pretty much use all of our brain areas and that our mental faculties do not deteriorate as quickly as is often thought since most regions of the brain do not lose brain cells over time. Although we might lose some nerve connections as we age, the brain compensates by forming new ones. This is a process associated with learning and many argue that this is why learning new things helps to keep our brains stimulated.

brain-regions-areas

 

Evidence from Psychiatry and Occupational Health suggests that change causes stress which can become more severe when the individual has no control over that change or the pace of the change. Studies have found that formal learning in early adulthood protects the memory functions as people age and such learning may even affect the way the brain adapts to Alzheimers disease. There is also evidence that exercise can improve cognition, regulate mood, help to increase the volume of grey matter and even stimulate new nerve cell production.

Although there is no one superfood that determines mental health a combination of good nutrients can help to promote positive mental health and improve memory, attention and intellectual ability.

These include Omega 3 type fatty acids (such as those found in oily fish), zinc, magnesium and iron and vitamins such as folate and a range of B vitamins, antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and E. Conversely poor diets lacking in these have been shown to affect people’s ability to deal with stress.

High levels of stress can impair learning, attention and memory as we are in a constant state of “fight or flight” and studies have shown that particular chemicals such as C-reactive protein are released in response to stress with negative effects on working memory.

So the message is clear

  • Keep learning new things
  • exercise regularly – do what you enjoy otherwise you won’t be able to stick to it
  • eat a good balanced diet
  • Try to deal with impending stressful situations – examine what works best for you – talking it through can often help

More information on dealing with stress can be found at http://mind.org.uk

More information on linking the brain and stress at http://youramazingbrain.org