Your brain on cortisol. When stress takes its toll.


I made a promise to myself.

An important, life-changing promise. Something so important it would impact on my whole life. Such a monumental decision like this one takes a lot of will power and I have to admit it’s been a difficult promise to keep. Not since giving up sugar have I been so challenged. 

So I decided to find a way to live a life with less stress. Not so easy, right?  


But I will not give up and neither should you.

How many times have you tried to live your life with a little less stress? Most of us, I suspect, view stress as just something to accept as part of modern-day living. If you’re anything like me, you’ve read enough about stress to know it has a detrimental impact on our health. But it’s one of those subjective things. How do we know for sure? What aspects of our lives or perhaps to be more specific, our health is being affected by stress?


The obvious signs.

Maybe for you, stress reared its ugly head through too many sleepless nights. Blaming it on something or someone else is tempting. But is night after night thinking or worrying about things we probably can’t change taking its toll? Or then there’s your shoulders or your back. Easy enough to blame that on too many hours hunched over a computer screen. Why I’ve even heard it called Computer Whiplash!! Yep, it’s a thing!
Or, was it the third cold in as many months. Sure, it’s going around. Nothing to do with stress? Perhaps.
We can find a legitimate excuse for just about anything that ails us. We know stress plays a role in our health and yet, we keep going, grab the occasional back massage, load up on sleep-inducing valerian. Fight the next bout of the flu with a good dose of vitamin C and Echinacea. All good remedies.
But even so, all this has left me with a lingering thought. Most of us know stress is a problem and yet we continue to deny the impact it has on us, both physically and mentally. 


You’re not stressed out; you’re just busy?Thrive

Here’s the thing. The biggest lies are the ones we tell ourselves and to our peril. Most of the time our body can handle short bursts of stress, why it’s probably even good for us. But what about the on-going emotional stress bubbling under the surface for so long you don’t even realise what you may be experiencing is long-term stress.
Could it be these minor ailments are just little warning signs? After all, we’re pretty resilient, and our body’s quite remarkable, and not to be deterred it will continue to send us little clues to take stock and deal with our stress? But, I fear we rarely do. These days it seems being stressed, and busy has become a badge of honour. But is it improving the performance of our lives?
As Ariana Huffington, founder of Huffington Post and author of the best selling book, Thrive puts it. 

We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.

What’s happening?

Whenever we’re stressed our body releases a hormone from our Adrenal Glands known as Cortisol. During short bursts of stress, let’s say like the last time a Saber-toothed tiger chased you. Or, closer to your reality, you failed to meet an important deadline, and your boss began to resemble something a lot like that Saber-toothed tiger. Cortisol is sent rushing to your brain setting your cheeks ablaze, and your heart racing. Of course, your life is not in danger, and usually, this feeling will dissipate. Everything returns to normal. Phew. 
But then there are the times of long-term stress, the loss of a loved one or the turmoil of a troubled relationship or life-changing and traumatic events. These are the times when cortisol hangs around in your brain causing long-term damage. In particular your hippocampus.  


The relationship to your memory, and the Hippocampus?

Located in the medial temporal lobe of your brain the hippocampus is an essential part of the brain and is responsible for converting short-term memories into long-term. A pretty important part of the brain and usually the first area of the brain to be affected by the debilitating effects of dementia. 


A serious manifestation.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is often associated with severe and chronic stress. A crippling form of stress just barely understood by most of us unless you’ve experienced it first hand. A type of stress most commonly associated with long-term cortisol in the brain. We view this type of stress in its extreme, but perhaps, it’s the everyday stress and worries, when left unabated year after year, having the same effect on cortisol in our brain as those who suffer PTSD. 

For most of us stress is unavoidable, and a lot of the time if we acknowledge its presence it can be treated and become manageable. It’s just a part of life and depending on your personality; you’ll deal with stress in a completely different way to me or your friends or other members of your family.  


I have a suspicion.

Even though most of us tend to view stress as something unavoidable or short-term, there can be times in life when it’s not so easy to manage. I have a suspicion, more than any of us perhaps realise, we may be putting our hippocampus at significant risk of long-term damage. With the rates of dementia set to skyrocket in the next two decades, it’s certainly something to think about and consider taking positive steps to reduce the risks long-term chronic stress and worry is having on us all; is having on our health. 
I wrote about the effect of long-term chronic stress on the body a few months back; you can check the article out here.


My promise.

Most days I fail miserably at the promise I made to myself. Probably like many of us, most of the time I don’t even acknowledge the presence of stress until something manifests physically. I’ve read enough about meditation and mindfulness to know the brain has a powerful hold on every aspect of our emotions and how we deal with life.
But what’s the point of a promise like the one I’ve made without action?  Sure, I’d like to wish it were easy, the same way I wish George Clooney had met me instead of Amal. But alas, wishing just isn’t going to make it so. 


So what to do?

Well, I’m going to make a big effort to master mindful meditation.
But before I do. I have a few other ideas. Things I can start today.
I could sit in silence for 10 – 15 minutes every morning.
Eat a meal with no other distraction other than the food in front of me. No internet, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, not even that ancient device called a television.
I could spend less time peering into mobile devices and spend more time getting out into the great outdoors.
I could be kinder to my past self and forgive her for some of the dumb stuff she’s said and done. 
That’s just for starters. I’m pretty sure I can find more ways to reduce stress and worry. In the coming weeks, I’ll be letting you know how it’s all going. Yes, I think there might be a list in the making. 


Beauty-Reboot-Mag-CoverTime for a reboot?

I am quite sure unmanaged long-term chronic stress is ageing. Very ageing. Not just in the creation of a furrowed brow, but to every cell of our body.
A few months back I created a little e-book, it’s called BEAUTY REBOOT. Of course, it has skin care tips, but it’s also a list of 22 ways to maintain ageless beauty whatever your age. 
A daily manifesto to remind us, to stop, take a breath and look around. If you don’t have it, you can get it for free when you subscribe to my weekly newsletter.
I’d love to have you join the TBI Community. Fill in the signup form on the right of this article for my weekly newsletter, and it’s all yours. 


And now you?

I’d love to hear from you. How do you manage stress? Do you have a mindful meditation practice you’d like to share, or have you found another healthy way to handle stress and worry? Leave a comment below or if you liked this article why not scroll down and share it with your friends.
See you next time, 

The Beauty Issue