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Stress Shrinks the Brain

July 7, 2016

A little stress in your daily life is natural, but too much stress can do your body a lot of harm. You many know that stress can ruin your concentration and increase your depression, but did you know that it can also shrink your brain? A study from Yale University took a closer look at this discovery a few years ago.

In the Yale University study researchers analyzed the brains of 103 healthy participants and studied how stressful life events, such as divorce and job loss, impact them. The researchers found that even recent stressful circumstances can reduce gray matter in the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain the regulates emotions and self-control. The Yale researchers said that people with repeated stress, or chronic stress, can further reduce gray matter, “making it more challenging for these individuals to deal with future stress.”

Fortunately, the reduction of your brain’s gray matter doesn’t have to last forever. Other studies have found that mindful practices can actually increase gray matter density. For instance, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) studied gray matter in the brains of participants who engaged in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program. The researchers took MR images of the participants’ brains two weeks before the eight-week program and two weeks after. They found that spending 27 minutes each day in mindful meditation and exercises increased the participants’ gray matter density. This area of the brain is associated with learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.

Are you worried about brain shrinkage due to stress? Listed below are two Mindful tips for overcoming this effect of stress. 

  • Take classes on mindfulness. In the course of the eight-week MGH study participants attended weekly mindful meetings. In the meetings the participants practiced mindful meditation and this helped increased the gray matter in their brain. If you would like to reverse the effects stress has on your brain consider taking mindfulness classes or stress reduction courses at your local community center or YMCA.
  • Listing to audio recordings. The participants in the MGH study received audio recordings for daily guided meditation practice. These audio recordings helped increased gray matter for the participants and it could help you as well.

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