Despite your busy schedule, you ignore the stressful situation you’re facing. Isn’t everyone stressed at the moment? Perhaps now is the time to act. Even though you appear healthy, your body is being damaged by tension. Does this sound familiar? In healthy middle-aged adults, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are linked to impaired memory and brain shrinkage. It’s also worth noting that women were affected more than men.
This research emphasizes a crucial point. Although stress affects your whole body, your brain acts as the focal point. Cortisol is not the only issue – grey matter perceives and interprets teeth-grinders like traffic jams, rejection, and finances. Researchers based on brain science have discovered the latest ways to reduce tension.
In the meantime, let’s dig deeper into your brain’s natural reactions and understand how and why they make you more susceptible to tension.
Stress disturbs your brain’s natural responses to pressure.
We are more prone to negative emotions and mental exhaustion because of our brains’ design thousands of years ago. These two factors increase our stress, says Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic and creator of the Mayo Clinic Resilience Program. He says that although our brains have evolved, life’s increased speed is the main stressor today. Our brains can’t keep up with this pace, he says. We are forced to manage everything life throws at us with too little time and resources, causing us to feel helpless. There has been a lot of research on how stress is caused by a perceived lack of control.
Dr Sood describes many traps that often ensnare our minds in his book Mindfulness Redesigned for the Twenty-First Century. Three of the most challenging:
Problems with focusing
A scanning and outward-directed focus served us well in the past. Today, we concentrate on inward-directed thinking. Even if we’re not aware of it, our minds wander 80 per cent of the time.
Our attention wanders and our thoughts accumulate when we are unhappy, as studies have found. The situation is similar to having a large set of files open on a computer, only they are in your head, drawing your attention and distracting you.
Anxiety & Fear. Familiar Words?
Detecting threats and identifying them is essential to our survival. The amygdala (mostly) performs this function. Whenever we are scared, our heart rate increases, which the brain stores as a protective measure. Due to this negativity bias, we tend to pay more attention to bad news than to good news. As a result of our brains also releasing hormones that further strengthen those memories, we readily recall bad experiences. How can that possibly happen? By being stressed.
Are You Tired Or Fatigued?
In contrast to several body organs (e.g., the heart and kidneys), the brain cannot sustain itself indefinitely. It needs time to rest after exerting itself. In less than four minutes or more than two hours, your brain will become fatigued when an activity is boring and intense. You can detect tiredness in the brain (since it has no pain receptors) by your eyes feeling tired and stuff happening, such as an inability to focus, errors, and loss of willpower. Stress leads to brain fatigue, and fatigue leads to stress, in a continuous closed cycle.
Why Women Are More Affected By Stress
Women almost always seem to suffer the effects of stress. Psychological Association’s annual survey reports that both women and men experience higher stress levels and suffer more stress-related physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms include headaches, upset stomachs, fatigue, irritability, and sadness.
Dr Sood says women are more susceptible to strain and pressure due to a triple whammy. A woman’s brain tends to be more sensitive to stressors and a perceived lack of control than a man’s. Consequently, women’s limbic areas, which control emotions and memories, are more active, which makes them more prone to remembering slights and hurts. Stress is also exacerbated when women stew over and have a hard time letting go of negative emotions. This is because the negativity bias at work reinforces the brain circuits that produce these emotions.
Furthermore, women’s focus tends to be more diffuse due to the multiple demands of parenting and caring for the household. Another source of stress is a brain that is not focused. According to Dr Sood, moms’ protective radars are always on for their children, which enables them to recognize a threat more quickly and dwell on it more than their husbands.
By discussing their feelings and stressors, women cope with anxiety. Unfortunately, this could lead to ruminative behaviour. There is no evidence that men access that part of their brains that processes cognition and are more likely to express their distress verbally as opposed to doing something or doing something. We are wired differently, so it does make sense.
That might explain why women tend to provide emotional support to someone who is going through a difficult time, whereas men may offer advice or something more tangible, such as money.
Overcoming the gender stress gap
Scientists have found that couples experience problems when each person perceives stress differently. Stressed people do not always give their partners support if they think, “I wouldn’t consider this as big if I were in the same situation.” What is the best way to get the response you want?
Listen to your partner without interrupting
Taking the time to hear and validate the other person’s feelings is the first step, according to Sinha. It is validating to just say, “You’re really frustrated.” Don’t be judgmental. Just tell someone that you understand how they feel.”
Whenever he dismisses your experience, you feel defensive
A stressed individual may hold on to something more when they believe their partner is downplaying its significance. They may even try to convince them that it’s true and they are entitled to feel this way. When you seem to be making light of your feelings, you may say, “I’m really upset right now. Even if you don’t understand, it would make me feel better if you were more understanding.
Compassion Is the key to success
According to Sinha, women are prone to criticizing themselves for not controlling their emotions as much as men. So they may interpret a partner’s comments as judgmental, even if they were not intended to be. When such a situation arises, forgive yourself, let it go, and hug it out. By doing so, tension can be reduced and positive feelings are boosted.
Easing pressures begins with learning how to negotiate conflicts. You should also plan how to deal with distractions, fears, and fatigue that naturally accumulate in your brain (see four smart approaches below). You can use them to better handle stress, and reap a great deal of benefit: better health and happier life, as well as a stronger brain.
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