How chronic stress can cause mental health disorders, by Mike Bundrant.

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Chronic Stress Mental HealthResearchers from the University of California, Berkeley have found that people who suffer from chronic stress may experience long-term changes in their brain that makes them more prone to mood disorders and anxiety.

Associate professor of integrative biology Daniela Kaufer and a team of researchers have studied the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that governs emotion and memory. They found that chronic stress causes the brain to generate fewer neurons and more myelin-producing cells than normal.

This results in more white matter in certain areas of the brain, disrupting the balance and timing of communication within the brain.

The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry may provide an explanation for changes found in patients with PTSD. Kaufer believes that it may be possible that prolonged stress may develop a stronger connection between the hippocampus and the area of the brain responsible for a person’s fight or flight response, while weakening the hippocampus’ connection with the prefrontal cortex, which moderates those responses. This would result in quicker fear responses, as well as a reduced ability to shut down those responses.

Kaufer’s lab also discovered that chronic stress affects the development of stem cells located in the hippocampus. Ordinarily, these cells are believed to only develop into a type of glial cell known as an astrocyte. Under the effects of chronic stress, however, these cells matured into a different type of glial cell called an oligodendrocyte, which produces myelin.

These cells also help form synapses. Kaufer believes that because fewer neurons are formed under chronic stress, this could explain why it has such an effect on memory and learning. She is now conducting experiments to see if early-life stress reduces a person’s resilience later in their life. She also plans to test the effect of various stress reducing therapies, from exercise to antidepressants.

Three Ways We Bring Stress Upon Ourselves

Chronic, negative stress can be eliminated, however, we tend to cling to it in various ways. Here are three of them.

1. Refusing to Treat PTSD.

Chronic stress that comes from unresolved physical, sexual and emotional trauma can be devastating. Fortunately, it is one of the most treatable mental health issues. Therapeutic use of modalities such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR),Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and cognitive behavioral approaches have a very high success rate in eliminating the flashbacks, anxiety, nightmares and chronic restimulation of past trauma.

It’s understandable that some people fear the treatment, but also very unfortunate that more people don’t take advantage of these options. If you have emotional trauma in your past, isn’t it time to deal with it and let go? You absolutely can, with help.

2. Catastrophic Over-commitment

To say that people keep themselves busy these days is an understatement. In fact, being busier than you can handle is almost a status symbol. If you can say, “Oh I am so busy that I can barely think straight” it must mean that you are not a loser.

When you can’t say no to work, family and community opportunities, you tend to over do it and live with more on your plate that you can possibly accomplish. This adds up to stress.

3. Psychological Attachments and Self-Sabotage

This is the granddaddy of them all, in my opinion. Self-sabotage will compel you to say yes when you mean no, eat and drink junk that makes you feel bad, stay up late when you need to get up early, waste time, work too much and hang around people who tend to control, reject or deprive you.

Self-sabotage draws you toward the negativity in life as if you belonged there. Amazingly, self-sabotage usually feels passive. In other words, it happens on autopilot, as if it were happening to you and not a product of your own decisions (until you understand how it works).

Chronic stress is the inevitable result.

It’s possible to live a simple, calm life that is relatively free of chronic, negative stress. PTSD, over-committing, and self-sabotage will prevent this from happening. From the results of the above study, it is apparently causing brain damage.

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