The Neuroscience of Stress Management

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In our crazy fast-paced world, stress is almost completely unavoidable. It’s especially an unwelcome companion that often accompanies the pursuit of success. As a neuro-wellness coach dedicated to supporting my fellow women in business, understanding the neuroscience of stress management becomes a crucial tool for navigating the challenges of the entrepreneurial and corporate journey. Let’s dive into the science and research that shed light on effective and natural strategies for managing stress!

woman stressed at desk

Looking at the Brain’s Response to Stress: Stress can trigger a cascade of physiological responses in the brain such as releasing cortisol and adrenaline. When we regularly release these chemicals, we run the risk of causing physiological issues such as digestive problems, trouble sleeping, headaches, and in a recent study could result in an increased risk of breast cancer

woman listening to music

Neuroplasticity & Stress Resilience: Our brains have this beautiful ability to adapt to its environment through neuroplasticity. When our stress levels are mid-level, we can do certain activities such as journal or meditate to help ground ourselves through the situation. But what do we do when our stress levels are high (in the red zone) and we can’t focus or control our thoughts? 

A few tried and true techniques that help bring our stress levels down into the green zone so that we can regain control of our thoughts would be:

  1. Exercise. Studies have shown that physical exercise releases positive biochemicals that not only help lower our stress levels that can take us out of the Red Zone, but also improve neuroplasticity and overall cognitive function.
  2. Music. Listening to music can have positive effects on the brain and neuroplasticity. There have been multiple studies done on musical training and it’s impact on structural changes made to the brain. 
  3. Laughter. I know that sometimes when we are so incredibly stressed, the thought of being able to laugh at anything sounds impossible. But laughter releases endorphins also called the “feel good chemicals” which naturally lowers stress, taking us out of the Red Zone and makes our stress more manageable. 
woman eating healthy dish

The Gut-Brain Connection & Stress: There is a reason the gut is commonly referred to as the “second brain”. There are so many studies that show the connection to the health of our microbiomes and our cognitive health. In fact, it has been shown that the quality of our microbiomes can even induce anxiety and depression. Other studies have shown that key brain process such as neuroplasticity is greatly regulated by the gut microbiomes. 

Although navigating the complexity of stress management can seem overwhelming- by incorporating evidence-based strategies into daily routines, the journey towards stress resilience becomes not only achievable but also an important aspect of women’s professional and personal growth. So, listen to your favorite songs, go for a run, and put on your favorite comedy! 

Sources

Dettenborn, L., James, G. D., van Berge-Landry, H., Valdimarsdottir, H. B., Montgomery, G. H., & Bovbjerg, D. H. (2005). Heightened cortisol responses to daily stress in working women at familial risk for breast cancer. Biological Psychology69(2), 167-179.

Hötting, K., & Röder, B. (2013). Beneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews37(9), 2243-2257.

Reybrouck, M., Vuust, P., & Brattico, E. (2018). Music and brain plasticity: how sounds trigger neurogenerative adaptations. Neuroplasticity Insights of Neural Reorganization85.

Yim, J. (2016). Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: a theoretical review. The Tohoku journal of experimental medicine239(3), 243-249.

Foster, J. A., Rinaman, L., & Cryan, J. F. (2017). Stress & the gut-brain axis: regulation by the microbiome. Neurobiology of stress7, 124-136.