First, I want to say I really appreciate all the kind words and messages from my initial blog post. Many of you took the time to reach out and check in and I am so grateful. My next MRI is coming up and it is always a tough time for me.
So…we last left our brains in a state of constant fear and anxiety. With Covid resurgence in most states, civil unrest continuing (I lived in Portland, OR for 6 years and my heart breaks) and the economy in a free fall, our limbic systems are getting quite the workout.
What does this mean?
To dig deeper into the neuroscience, when you have a fear response, the amygdala activates your central response system. This is known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis because of the three parts of your brain that comprise it. Don’t try to say this at home – just call it the HPA. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothalamic%E2%80%93pituitary%E2%80%93adrenal_axis
Why do we care about this? Because this is the axis of good and evil that regulates your cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Remember, some stress is good. It helps you jump out of the way of a speeding car.
If stress becomes chronic, like now, we are amped up all the time and our cortisol flows unabated. This can cause digestive issues, sleep problems and a weakened immune system, which means you might be more likely to get a virus or experience chronic health problems. It can also cause memory and concentration problems, which is why I couldn’t remember things. And still can’t.
A study at UC Berkeley (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/chronic-stress-can-damage-brain-structure-and-connectivity) also showed that the stress hormone can create a domino effect that may begin a cycle where your brain is always in fight or flight. This can turn stem cells into another type of cell that inhibits connections to the prefrontal cortex, which as you may remember, acts as the friend who talks you down from feeling super stressed. Thus my irritability.
Lastly, your brain under chronic stress makes some glial (https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-are-glial-cells-and-what-do-they-do-4159734) cells called oligodendrocytes (my tumor was a oligodendroglioma – also a big word that it took me literally months to say or spell) which can cause future mental issues as well.
The good news is, there are things you can do to reduce the cortisol and reset your brain, even in these highly stressful times. Next week I will share more!