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Stressing the Importance of Relaxation: How Stress Shrivels Your Brain and Wrecks Your Body

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Pressure: The thing that not even the combined powers of Freddie Mercury AND David Bowie could vanquish.

But rather than the terror of knowing what this world is about, stress is more the terror of knowing that you have challenges in front of you, but not knowing whether you can handle them.

Stress is something that we all have in our lives, and for a lot of us, it’s something we view as an immutable, unchangeable reality. But viewing stress as something that is within our realm of control is a far healthier thing, as allowing your stress to run rampant is a good way to pack on extra pounds, lose IQ points, and miserable.

So how does stress ruin your health, and what are some easy ways to combat the harmful effects of stress? Here’s what you need to know.

People Who Stress More Have Weaker Immune Systems

Mom was right – it is possible to worry yourself sick.

There’s a significant body of research now emerging that describes a set of stress-induced illnesses, indicating that how well you manage your stress can determine how effective your immune system is at fending off diseases.

In 2012, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discovered that stress impairs your ability to fight colds. These researchers interviewed 276 healthy young subjects about stressful life events, then injected them all with a cold virus. Participants who had higher cortisol levels – a marker of increased feelings of stress – were more likely to get sick than participants with normal cortisol levels.

The researchers attribute this weakened immune response to inflammation induced by – you guessed it – stress.


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Stress Makes You Dumb: The Brain-Addling Effects of Worrying Too Much

As it turns out, getting sick more easily is only the mildest of the many nefarious things that stress can do to your body and brain.

Researchers at Yale University found several years ago that exposure to chronic stress puts you at an increased risk of developing depression, and in 2012, a Michigan State University study found that anxious brains are forced to work harder to complete simple tasks, which leads to mental burnout.

Stress also impairs your emotional intelligence. (That’s right – it makes you dumb in more ways than one!)

According to Dr. Steven Stein, too much stress causes you to become more impulsive, less attentive, and less productive. The result is that you make poorer decisions, ignore important information, and have difficulty getting along with others.

Other researchers have also found that chronic stress can cause memory impairment, obsessions, addictions, irrational fears, and compulsive behaviours, given that stress shrinks the part of the brain responsible for logic and enlarges the parts of the brain responsible for fear and obsession.

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Too Much Stress Can Rewrite Your DNA

That’s right – stressing out too much can permanently alter your body on a fundamental genetic level.

No, it won’t fuse your DNA with that of a hammerhead shark like in some weird cheesy cult sci-fi movie, but it will change the way your genes express themselves.

Chronic stress impacts your DNA in a variety of ways. It shortens your telomeres, which hastens the aging process. It also heightens your sensitivity to rewarding and addictive substances like junk food, which can contribute to weight gain. And as if that’s not bad enough? It even damages your DNA, which can put you at risk of a range of diseases.

Stress is significantly more harmful than we’ve recognized in the past. (According to researchers at Columbia University, it’s as bad as smoking 5 cigarettes a day.)

New research is demonstrating the importance of stress management, but as a busy professional who’s just trying to make it through the winter, stress management can often take a backseat to work. But by properly managing your stress, you can improve your brain function, reduce the number of sick days you’re forced to take, and extend your life – all good reasons to dedicate this winter to finding better ways to cope with stress.

Excess stress makes you dumb and causes you to hate your life. But with the proper stress management techniques, you can handle whatever challenges life throws your way and make your brain function at peak levels.


Discover how to boost your productivity without stressing out at Jamie Wood’s upcoming workshop on January 31, where you’ll learn how to change the way your brain handles stress.



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