At the University of California, Berkeley researchers have actually found that chronic stress is changing the connections and the structure of the cells in your brain.
“Neuroscientists at the UC Berkeley, have found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function,” reported Psychology Today.
The American Psychological Association defines stress as “any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes.”
An Annual Review of Psychology article, “Health Psychology: Mapping Biobehavioral Contributions to Health and Illness,” reported that “untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system. As well as contributing to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression, and obesity.”
Based on findings by the researchers at UC Berkeley, we can add brain changes, and damage to the wiring of the brain, to that list.
Stress-related illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder are known to trigger changes in brain structure. This includes “differences in the volume of gray matter versus white matter, as well as the and size and connectivity of the amygdala,” according to the Psychology Today article, “Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity.”
The brain is made up of two types of matter: white matter and gray matter.
The white matter is made up of axons, or cables, which send the signals impulses between the brain cells. The gray matter contains the cell bodies that handle brain functions like thinking and decision-making.
UC Berkeley researchers are a group that have started to look at changes in the brain structure and how this alters its function. The researchers focused on the hippocampus of the brain, which regulates memory and emotion.