It’s comforting to know that stress and its effects on the brain and the body is being studied at the university level. I am always on the lookout for the latest stress-related studies and information. I came across an interview on Huffington Post that had previously been published in Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
According to the interviewee, Daniela Kaufer, an associate professor at UC Berkeley who studies the biology of stress, examining at the molecular level how the brain responds to anxiety and traumatic events, “Manageable stress increases alertness and performance.”
We all know on some level that there is good stress and bad stress. And Ms. Kaufer refers to good stress as “manageable” vs. unmanageable stress, which is not so good. According to Ms. Kaufer, manageable stress, “by encouraging the growth of stem cells that become brain cells, stress improves memory.” She continues adding, “The increase in stem cells and neuron generation makes sense from an adaptive point of view. If an animal encounters a predator and manages to escape, it’s important to remember where and when that encounter happened, to avoid it in the future. If you’re walking down an alley and somebody threatens you, it’s important to remember exactly where you were in order to avoid that alley in the future. The brain is constantly responding to stress. Extreme or chronic stress can have a negative effect. But moderate and short-lived stress—like an upcoming exam or preparing to deliver a speech in public—improves cognitive performance and memory.”
Many people live with chronic stress of which they may not be consciously aware. The subconscious mind, according to Bruce Lipton in The Biology of Belief, processes 40,000 bits of information per second vs. the conscious mind that processes 40 bits of information per second. Every individual has been processing information since birth (or while in the womb before birth). As the Huffington Post article explains, “Chronic stress can constrict blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Research shows that too much stress can suppress the immune system and has also shown that chronic stress reduces fertility in animals. In female mice, for instance, stress lowers libido, reduces fertility, and increases the risk of miscarriage. We also know that extreme stress can lead to post traumatic stress disorder.”
Most people associate PTSD as something that happens to soldiers during war. However, it isn’t just war that causes post-traumatic stress disorder. There are many life events that can cause this chronic stress. And as Ms. Kaufer says, “The problem with post-traumatic stress disorder is that people can’t forget. They can’t let traumatic memories go. Even though we don’t know why.”
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