March came roaring in like a lion last week literally and figuratively. While some of it was expected (snowstorms and deadlines), others weren’t (unforeseen urgent situations). Anticipated or not, they all added up to a stressful start to the month. Continuing our Mindful Winter Warm Up, it’s important to understand the stress of lionish weeks like this are detrimental to mind and body.
Stress, whether from a positive or negative source, alters the brain and can impair everyday functioning and decrease quality of life. Chronic stress in particular can be mind eroding. Think of a person with post-traumatic stress disorder or a lone caregiver of a person with a chronic condition. Left unchecked without strategic stress reducers, the stress buildup and effect on one’s mind can be devastating. A recent study demonstrated this impact.
Mice exposed to repeated and prolonged stress had difficulties with spatial memory, brain cell creation and depressive mood symptoms. The study discovered a relationship between short term memory and prolonged stress evidenced by inflammatory changes in the brain from an immune system response. This is important since historically the brain has been considered an immune-privileged organ. This brain-body communication was significant because it showed the stress induced inflammation was responsible for the spatial memory difficulties. Treating the inflammation improved the memory issues, which is great news. Unfortunately, the depressive symptoms as well as the brain’s ability to create new brain cells were not improved with treating the inflammation.
What does all of this mean? It provides new insight to treat memory problems associated with chronic stress by decreasing the immune system’s inflammatory response. This is welcome news for those suffering from chronic exposure to stress. However, it also highlights the underlying influence of stress on the brain’s plasticity (ability to make and adapt brain cells). This damage will only improve with better management of the underlying chronic stress.
However the stress of March’s madness manifests in your life, use effective stress management tools to keep your stress in balance. Ironically, (or not, in my opinion) some of the best stress relieving techniques are also brain wellness strategies, which are at the core of MemoryMinders programming.
We all have some form of stress in our lives. Managing and minimizing this will lead to a healthy mind and memory. If we do this, we’ll improve our memory, quality of life and maybe the this month’s madness will march out quietly like a lamb.
D. B. McKim, A. Niraula, A. J. Tarr, E. S. Wohleb, J. F. Sheridan, J. P. Godbout. Neuroinflammatory Dynamics Underlie Memory Impairments after Repeated Social Defeat. Journal of Neuroscience, 2016; 36 (9): 2590 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2394-15.2016