The answer is an unequivocal yes, especially if you’re middle-aged.
The results of a study of more than 2200 middle-aged people were recently shared by the website PSYBlog, and those results confirm stress is harmful to our health – especially our mental health. This research suggests stress also shrinks the brain.
The participants in the study had their cortisol levels tested and those levels were compared to memory and cognition tests, as well as scans of their brains. Cortisol is the body’s fight-or-flight hormone, it’s released into the bloodstream to prepare the body to fight or flee from a threat. Whenever we’re afraid, or feel threatened in any way, our cortisol levels go up.
The study showed those with higher levels of cortisol had cognition decline and also had worse memory; cortisol is directly related to the ability to remember facts and follow directions. And when the participants of the study had their brains scanned, not only were there structural abnormalities in those with higher cortisol levels, there were smaller brain volumes as well. Basically, increased cortisol levels = decreased brain size.
One of the researchers hypothesized that the faster pace of life today leads to more stress, and when we’re stressed, our cortisol levels go up because that is our fight-or-flight response.
Surprisingly, even though there were structural abnormalities, decreased brain volume, cognition decline and poor memory in those with higher cortisol levels, there were no signs of dementia in the volunteers. In other words, these findings can be reversed!
There is good news: mindfulness mediation just a few minutes a day reduces stress and brings cortisol levels down to what is considered average – or even below average when a regular routine is adopted. Additionally, activities that are meditative in nature (yoga, Tai Chi, and hypnosis to name just a few) are equally effective in reducing cortisol levels and in increasing levels of the body’s “feel-good hormones.”
Give us a call or send us a note to set up an appointment to learn mindfulness techniques or hypnosis – or both!