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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cari S. Miller

Stress Management

Did you know studies in both animals and people have clearly shown stress can affect how the brain functions?

Changes have been shown in how the brain processes information when people experience either real-life stress or stress manufactured in a research setting. Both types of stress seem to interfere with cognition, attention, and memory.

Not only does stress affect memory and other brain functions (e.g. mood and anxiety), it also promotes inflammation which adversely affects heart health. Because of this, stress has been associated with several chronic diseases of the brain and heart. Check out this video to learn more:

The possible consequences of stress are why managing stress is important in your everyday life. In order to better manage stress, you should consider how you can lessen the factors that make it worse. Here are some tips that can help you to better cope with stress:

  • Establish some control over your situation. If stress isn't predictable, focus on controlling the things that are. Having a routine is good for development and health. Predictability combats stress.

  • Get a good night's sleep. Stress can result in sleep difficulties, and the resulting lack of sleep can make stress worse. Sleep deprivation makes parts of the brain that handle higher-order functions work less well. Having healthy sleep habits can help. This includes going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoiding caffeine after noon, and creating a relaxing sleep environment.

  • Get organized. Using strategies to help manage your workload can also reduce stress. For example, each day, create a concrete list of tasks you need to accomplish. This way, your duties won't seem overwhelming. Making a list also gives you a clear end point so you know when you are done. Laying tasks out like this helps reduce the feeling that the brain is being bombarded. It can also help you predict when you are likely to be stressed.

  • Practice 4-count Box Breathing. Breathing exercises help to mobilize oxygen through the body, providing energy our brains and muscles need and calms our nervous system. Typically, we all are shallow breathers, only utilizing a small porting of our lungs. Breathe in deeply to the count of 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold it out for 4. Do this a few times through the day to mobilize oxygen and to reduce stress.

  • Change your attitude toward stress. A life without stress is not only impossible, but also would likely be pretty uninteresting — in fact, a certain degree of stress is helpful for growth. So, rather than striving for no stress, strive for healthier responses to stress.

  • Develop a prayer life. We are whole beings, with body, mind, and soul. We cannot compartmentalize ourselves and only address bodily functions without recognizing how those affect our mind. The same is with our souls. We are spiritual beings. Saint Augustine said, "“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” When life becomes too much, and we are besot with worry, turning to God with our troubles brings peace. Rest in the words of Jesus Christ, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

Following these tips may help prevent some of the damaging effects stress can have on your brain and your life.


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