When I’ve spoken to groups about brain fitness, I always mention the importance of stress and mood for brain fitness. Something many people don’t realize is how insidious stress can be. When stress is chronic, we get used to it and don’t notice it. It still has its effects.
Stress can affect your memory and other abilities in a number of ways. Psychological stress increases levels of hormones in your body that are known to be toxic to your brain. Chronic stress may cause depression, and depression by itself can affect your memory and your ability to think rapidly and clearly.
How can you tell whether you’re under significant stress? There are a number of stress scales on the Internet. I think the best way is to ask yourself two questions: (1) How often do you feel your ability to cope with things is challenged? and (2) How successful are you at coping with these challenges? The answer to how stressed you are comes from your response to both of these questions. If you feel frequently stressed, but you feel as though you’re doing a pretty good job of coping, your stress level is likely moderate. If you are frequently stressed and feel as though you are just barely hanging on, your stress level is probably much higher.
Coping with stress requires you to recognize that you’re feeling stressed. What causes you stress?
- Can you do anything about it?
- Can you avoid it?
- Try to schedule stressors for the time of day you’re most energetic and able to cope.
- At some point in the day, stop for five minutes and pay attention to your breathing. Interrupt the daily plunge into activity by taking five minutes for yourself.
Take stress seriously, dead seriously. Have a management plan that includes scheduling, exercise, and some form of relaxation.