Stress in Your Brain: How it Works?!

Probably, you ask yourself often how actually the brain balances the feelings of stress and calm.
Scientifically, it is proved that there are two different regions of the brain that play main roles in
the experience of stress and the restoration of calm.
To be more precise – the effects of stress that you feel in your mind and body, like for example –
elevated alertness or a rapid heartbeat – are actually a mixed blessing of the modern people.
In our very ancient evolutionary past – when we was on the level of Homo erectus – the stress of
run into a hungry predator or meet our rival – helped to keep us alive.
Today – in the modern world – when we are on the level of Homo sapiens, anyhow, the
instantaneous psychological and physiological effects of stress in different situations – such as an
exam, or a job interview, or even our first date – can be very unpleasant.
Even more seriously – our continuous chronic stress – has associations with worse physical and
mental health.
But, looking from the happiest side – fortunately – unlike other animals, people can develop
cognitive strategies for decreasing their subjective experiences of stress.

A Recent Research about Stress in Our Brain

Successful using strategies that psychologists have confirmed include – to express stress-related
feelings – verbally or in writing, appraising again or in a different way a stressful situation, and to
see it in a more positive light, and mindful attention.
When they study animals – biologists have found a great relation about how the central nervous
system regulates the physiological effects of stress.
But, to investigate how exactly the brain manages the personal experience of stressful events has
proved more challenging.
“It`s true that we can’t ask rats how they are feeling,” – says Elizabeth Goldfarb, Ph.D., associate
research scientist at the Yale Stress Center, part of Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT.
Therefore, to research more about the neural correlates of feeling stressed – doctor Goldfarb and
her colleagues have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 60
individuals as they looked at sets of stress-inducing and neutral or relaxing pictures.
The report of this specific study was published by the journal Nature Communications.

The scientists found that the participants react on stress-inducing images, such as a snarling dog,
disfigured faces, or even filthy toilets.
In contrast, the neutral or relaxing images included persons reading in a park or some scenes
from nature.
After they show them each set of pictures – the doctors asked the volunteers to press buttons and
to rate how stressed they felt on a scale from 1 to 9. (1 for not stressed at all, 9 for extremely
stressed). The volunteers also rated how calm or relaxed they felt.

How Memory Help to Regulate Emotions

The researchers were also interested to learn how the connections of the hippocampus in the
brain changed according to how stressed the volunteers felt.
To be precise – our hippocampus is one seahorse-shaped structure situated deep in the temporal
lobe within each hemisphere of our brain. It plays the main role in our emotion and memory.
The scientists found two different networks in the brain regions centered on the hippocampus
that became more or less connected – according to the individuals personal stress levels.
When they were feeling stressed, connectivity strengthened in a network that included a structure
at the base of the brain called the hypothalamus. This provoke the release of few hormones –
including the stress hormone – known as cortisol.
In contrast, when participants felt calmer – connectivity strengthened between the hippocampus
and a network – including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – near the front of each hemisphere.
The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex has connections with cognitive or so called – executive
functions, including decision-making and the coping strategies humans use to regulate emotions.

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