Stress Kills Your Brain Cells – Here’s 19 Strategies to Prevent that and help you To Be Happy & HealthyThe research tells us that chronic stress, fear and anxiety can damage the brain and increase the risk of major psychiatric disorders, which is not good news for the largest segment of the population. The good news is that due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, the ability of the brain to form new connections and pathways and change how circuits are wired, and neurogenesis, the ability of the brain to grow new neurons, there is a lot you can do to combat stress and keep your brain and body in good health. If this idea that stress can kill your brain cells is too far-fetched for you to believe, consider that back in 1996 Stanford biological sciences Professor Robert Sapolsky published a review article in the August 9, 1996 edition of the journal Science, showing links between long-term stressful life experiences, long-term exposure to hormones produced during stress, and shrinking of the part of the brain involved in some types of memory and learning. Sapolsky, an expert on stress and the brain, is the author of the book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, and complied the research using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. A more recent study published in 2014 titled Neuropathology of Stress by Paul J. Lucassen, et al (Acta Neuropathol. 2014: 127(1): 109-135) discusses the science about how “Exposure to chronic or severe stress has profound effects on the structural and functional integrity of the limbic brain areas that not only coordinate the stress response, but are also exposed to the altered expression levels of different hormones, neurotransmitters and trophic factors.” The Neuropathology of Stress article has 247 cited references in the paper.
Start with Your Thoughts, Beliefs and AttitudesIf you are new to growth and development then you might not be too hip to what thoughts you have rolling around in your head let alone be paying attention to some of the words that come out of your mouth. If you want to get ahead of the impact of stress, fear and anxiety then it will be beneficial for you to wake-up and really start paying attention to what thoughts pop into your head during the day, as well was some of the sentences that you speak. Doing this will be the gateway for you into where you need to grow and develop. Many people have very self-defeating or negative thoughts. We think that we are not good enough. We are not this or not that. We think that we don’t deserve all the good stuff life has to offer. So, in paying attention to what you think and what you say, you will uncover some of your underlying beliefs and attitudes about life that will be critical to moving you into a more positive and happy position. For example, once you start paying attention to what you are thinking and saying, you might uncover that you have a belief that “You can’t Win”, which would be exceptionally powerful if that is the case because there is a long-held concept in psychology called “the self-fulling prophecy” that hold what you believe basically is what will happen. There’s an alternate corollary to that called the “self-defeating prophecy” that hold the same thing but with a negative slant. Understanding your beliefs about life is very powerful if you want to manage stress, fear and anxiety as much of where stress and anxiety as well as fears comes from is our own thoughts. In the book, “The Hidden Messages in Water”, author Masaru Emoto shows photographs of water crystals before and after they have been exposed to various stimuli like soothing music or heavy metal music and while it is a very small and short book – it is nonetheless a compelling visual on the impact of our environment on something so simple as water. I highly recommend a peek at the book or at least some of the videos on that book. You are exposed to your thoughts on a never-ending basis. What are you feeding your soul and mind with? That is the question. While you might not have an answer to that in this moment, it is worth looking at and discovering. Let’s say for the sake of example that you are or become aware that you have a never-ending supply of negative thoughts. While that would not be good or helpful, the cause for celebration is the recognition that you have a steady stream of negative thoughts entering your mind because that is something that you can change. I would understand if you are skeptical or doubtful, but I ask you to trust me on this. This is not a post about how to convert from a true pessimist to an optimist, that is entirely another subject. I am assuming that if you are reading this you have some motivation to want a better life for yourself and that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get there. If that’s not you, you need not read any further because nothing I say will make a difference for you. It just won’t. If you are that attached to having a negative and unhappy life – and there ARE people like that – then nothing will change that for you. And you are welcome to keep your attitudes and beliefs – even if they are not serving you. Life is about choice.
Ways to Preserve Your Brain Cells & Be HappyThere are a multitude of ways to combat stress and be happy, which is the goal if you want to preserve your brain cells. I am providing my own list with some minor explanations. Basically, if you do the work to create a life that YOU LOVE and sprinkle your days and weeks with doing things that make you happy, you are on the path to counter-balancing the negative impact of stress on your life. This is the core point to my blog – that you set up your life to be what you want it to be – a life that brings you happiness. How happiness affects your body is the subject for an entirely separate post. For now, here are some of the options to help you stave off damage caused by stress, fear and anxiety.
- Being Present– Being present means having your full attention to the task at hand or what is going on in the moment. If you are having a conversation with another person it means that your full attention is devoted to the conversation and you are not obsessing with your own thoughts or doing something else. You are “in the moment” with that person. The reason that I have listed being present as one way to interrupt stress, fear and anxiety is that you can’t be present in the moment if you are obsessing about other things because that is the opposite of being present.
- Exercise – If you detest exercise then consider walking, which has health benefits much like that of any other form of exercise. Exercise is good for your physical body and has been shown to reduce stress and the effects of stress. If you have a medical condition, check with your physician first before embarking on an exercise program. Except for those individuals with mobility problems, walking is an easy, cheap and available form of stress reduction. Shoot for getting more steps each week until you can get to 10,000 steps a day. Old-fashioned pedometers, which is what I use, function well to help you monitor your progress. Regardless of what form of exercise you opt for, exercise will help you avoid some of the impacts of aging – and that alone is worth your consideration.
- Affirmations-While you are on the road to creating a life that you LOVE, which I hope is the road you are on – doing affirmations can help you curb some of your negative thoughts. Affirmations if you have never done them are simple statements that you repeat to yourself throughout your day. Affirmations are deeply personal and can be highly effective if you actually do them. Examples of simple affirmations include statements like: I am enough; Happiness is a choice and I choose to be happy; God provides for all my wants and needs; or I love myself. Some might consider this in the vein of “faking it until you make it” and that’s fine. I know that affirmations can be very powerful and can help you while you are on your journey of personal growth and development.
- Prayer-If you are not religious or have not been exposed to prayer, it can be a powerful tool in reducing stress, anxiety and fear. According to a National Review.com article by Clay Routledge (April 9, 2018), prayer is positively associated with welling-being and health, can contribute to perceptions of meaning in life, which promotes psychological well-being, and religious faith increases self-control and reduces (or can) unhealthy behavior. I find prayer to be refreshing, calming and reassuring.
- Meditation-Meditation has plenty of benefits for health and in particular in reducing stress and anxiety and improving brain function. While I personally have only tried meditation a few times, probably because prayer works for me, there’s plenty of support in the internet about ways to go about it.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)– Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a particular type of short-term psychotherapy that has the goal of changing patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties and thus change the way that they feel. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works by changing attitudes and behavior by focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that a person holds (their cognitive processes).
- Tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)-Founded by psychologist Dr. Roger Callahan in 1979, whose student, Gary Craig, later organized the sequence of the tapping method developed by Dr. Callahan and renamed it the Emotional Freedom Technique. According to a recent research article, the Emotional Freedom Technique is an evidence-based, self-help therapeutic method and over 100 studies demonstrate its efficacy (Bach D, Groesbeck G, Stapleton P, Sims R, Blickheuser K, Church D. Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Improves Multiple Physiological Markers of Health. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2019;24:2515690X18823691. doi:10.1177/2515690X18823691.
- Personal Growth & Development Work-It is my personal opinion that any work you do to improve yourself a.k.a. personal growth and development will go a very long way to help you permanently enhance your tool shed in dealing with stress, fear and anxiety. As I mentioned in a past blog post there are many avenues for obtaining growth and development including but not limited to: reading this blog, courses, program, seminars, trainings, podcasts, books, programs like Toastmasters International, movies or DVD’s, conversations with people, The Bible and religious programs, setting stretch goals and attaining them, going to college or a university for a degree program, getting a coach, and so on. Personally, I have a great affinity for growth and development, so I highly recommend it. See my November 29, 2019 post titled “Top 45 Ways that Personal Growth & Development Will Help You Have a Life You Love” for my take on this.
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)-Developed in the 1970’s in California by John Grinder, a linguist, and Richard Bandler, an information scientist and mathematician, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a psychological approach that involves analyzing strategies used by successful individuals and applying them to reach a personal goal. It relates to thoughts, language, and patterns of behavior. The research on NLP, despite being in existence for 40 plus years, does not confirm the validity of the theories behind NLP nor the effectiveness of the approach. Literature reports that it remains popular, however it lacks the scientific support of things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) for what it is worth.
- Journaling-Journaling has been around since the beginning of time and is easy, inexpensive and effective in helping people deal with stress, anxiety, fear and their thoughts.
- Practicing Gratitude as a way of life-It’s really hard to feel stressed out, fearful or full of anxiety if you are practicing gratitude. While I am not saying that you can’t feel stressed, fearful or anxious at the same time you are feeling grateful, being filled with gratitude has the benefit of reducing those negative feelings. Gratitude does not come naturally for some people. You might have to work at it. You might have to consciously look for things to be grateful for and write them down.
- Positive Attitudes/Self-Fulfilling Prophecy/Beliefs-A thorough examination of your attitudes, beliefs, and your outlook on life can help you reduce stress, fear and anxiety if you uncover limiting beliefs, attitudes or outlooks. As I previously mentioned the self-fulfilling prophecy, this is only one aspect that can help you or hurt you when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety. If you believe that your life will never get better than it’s completely likely that it will never get better. The sports world and famous coaches have lots of quotes about what it takes to win like the Vince Lombardi quote: “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” What is it that you believe? What are your core beliefs about life?
- Get out and socialize-The medical research on this is so compelling that it bears repeating and I quote myself from my October 7, 2019 post titled “8 Ways to Improve Your Health & Look Younger”: Loneliness and social isolation increases premature death by up to 50% making it a bigger threat than obesity according to two meta-analyses from Brigham Young University. Compelling research by J. Tanskanen and T. Anttila (Am J Public Health 2016 November; 1106(11): 2042-2048.NCBI.NIM.NIH.GOV) indicates that a lack of social connections is as influential a mortality risk as traditional health-related indicators such as alcohol, smoking or obesity. (end quote of myself) Yes, you would do well to get out there and socialize. You can also refer to my post about how to make new friends. This will help you with stress, fear and anxiety – both getting out there and socializing and making new friends.
- Create a Life You LOVE– In my humble opinion one of the best and most powerful ways to vanquish stress, fear and anxiety is to create a life that you love! Create a life that you have designed with all of the things that you love in it. That takes intentionality and time. This is what I write about, what I am passionate about and what I believe is the most important thing you could do with your time – create a life that YOU LOVE! That IS what this blog is about!
- Volunteer for organizations that inspire you – Yet another way to help reduce stress, anxiety and fear is to spend your free time volunteering for organizations that inspire you. It will give you a good feeling. While you won’t get the same payoffs as you might by doing some of the other options I have listed above, it is one activity that will help you.
- Start helping people who are worse off than you are – If you want to be jolted into a new reality quickly start helping people who have a more difficult life than you do. These people are not hard to find if you are looking. There’s nothing like a dose of the harsh reality that as hard as your life is – and I am not saying that it is easy – is seeing how utterly impossible some people’s lives are compared to yours. That is not to minimize your problems or compare your problems to others, but it can really help add some perspective that is often helpful. In this day in age when the Autism numbers are skyrocketing, there is an endless supply of parents who have no choice but to care for their child with Autism without respite or help of any kind. Then there’s people caring for an aging parent with little resources. In our great nation, there are plenty of people in need of help and who are likely much worse than you are.
- Hobbies, Hobbies, Hobbies-Hobbies are a wonderful way to offset stress, fear and anxiety and this is a subject of a blog post titled “How Hobbies Can Help You Love Your Life and the Top 23 Reasons Why You Should Hobby Up” from December 11, 2019. I am a FAN of hobbies because they are so good for us!
- Implement Time Management Practices – Another way to reduce your stress, fear and anxiety is to improve your time management practices – yes, I am talking about making a list. I have blogged about time management in previous posts because it is the way to free up time, be more efficient and garner other amazing benefits. See my post titled “LOVE the TIME of YOUR LIFE” from September 12, 2019, and “Top 35 Ways that Making a List Will Help You Have a Life You LOVE”, from November 18, 2019.
- Draw a Line in the Sand/Defining Moment – Sometimes the way to alter your future is by taking a stand and drawing a line in the sand or creating what you might call a defining moment. You could take the stance that you are simply going to have your life go a certain or particular way. You could be so firm and resolute about it that not one person would doubt you. You could do that. We mostly don’t do that. I highly recommend it. It’s invigorating. It’s freeing, and it’s your right to do so. Why not??
Concluding Thoughts:The research is in – stress, anxiety and fear are really bad for our brains, longevity, health and mental abilities. The good news is that you can take definite and definitive actions to counter-balance, reduce or eliminate stress in your life. You can do that. Most people don’t do what it takes to remove, eliminate or counter-balance stress, anxiety and fear. They just live with it. That’s not the powerful life for you my beloved reader. The powerful life for you is embracing the habits and practices that make you happy. If you focus on being happy, you will automatically or over time eliminate those things that make you unhappy, which would be negative things that stress you or cause you anxiety. I want you to have a happy and healthy life that you LOVE. What support do you need? What questions do you have? How can I empower you to do what you need to do? Let me know!