The Brain/Body Connection: Stress

How are your New Year health resolutions going?  Are you staying focused?  A healthy body requires a healthy brain.  Chronic stress can interfere with both.

Chronic stress constricts blood flow to the brain, which can lower brain function.  A Canadian study showed that stress hormones decreased activity in the brain that controls cognitive function and emotional balance.  This makes it harder to stay focused and make healthy decisions.

Stress increases cortisol levels.  One study showed that older adults with chronically high levels of cortisol performed worse on memory tests than those with low to moderate cortisol levels.

Chronic stress and high cortisol levels are linked to an increase in appetite and cravings for carbohydrates and sweets.

Stress can interfere with sleep, and a lack of sleep (less than seven hours per night) can trigger an increase in cortisol and interfere with hormones that control appetite.

Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, digestive disorders, and weaken the immune system.

Stress can make you feel tired and less inclined to exercise.  A lack of exercise can decrease blood flow to the brain.  On the flip side, too much exercise can promote physical stress.

Some ideas for managing chronic stress:

  1.  Prayer has been shown to calm stress and improve brain function.  Studies point out that prayer reduces depression and anxiety, improves focus, and protects the brain from cognitive decline due to aging.  Prayer seems to increase activity in the prefrontal cortex part of the brain, the area involved in planning, making decisions, and self-control.  “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.”  Isaiah 26:3.  “Give all your worries to God, for He cares about you.”  1 Peter 5:7
  2. Uplifting music can calm the mind and body.
  3. Lavender has been researched and shown to reduce cortisol levels and promote relaxation.  Add it to a bath or diffuser.  I like to buy small glass bottles with roller tops to make lavender oil to rub onto wrists or temples to help calm stress.  It may even help to lower blood pressure.
  4. Laughter really is the best medicine!  “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”  Proverbs 17:22.  Laughter releases feel-good hormones and helps reduce dangerous stress hormones.
  5. Green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps increase serotonin and/or dopamine, which act as natural anti-depressants.  L-theanine can also be found in supplement form but should not be taken by pregnant women or nursing mothers.
  6. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.  Negative thoughts produce stress!  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8.
  7. Eat foods high in B-vitamins to help with mood and stress.  They also help metabolize fats, which are needed for brain health.  Whole grains, nuts, seeds, brown rice, and nutritional yeast are some good sources of B-vitamins.  A healthy balance of good intestinal bacteria helps the body make B-vitamins.

Keep learning to be healthy!

Lisa Hernandez, Certified Nutritionist & Health Coach

1 Corinthians 10:31–“Whatever you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for God’s glory!”

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.  It does not take the place of any medical care that you may need. Consult your health care provider about making dietary and lifestyle changes that are right for you.