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New Study: Chronic Stress Damages Brain, Causes Mental Illness



A new scientific study is warning people that they need to find ways to reduce their chronic anxiety and stress. If people don’t find ways to balance out their lives and find peace then they are much more likely to develop mental illnesses such as depression and possibly even dementia.

The study from the Rotman Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences looked at the area of our brains that is most impacted by chronic stress, fear, and anxiety. They concluded that there is an “extensive overlap” in the brain’s neurocircuitry in all of these conditions. This may show us why issues such as chronic stress and developing disorders such as Alzheimers and depression are connected.

Experiencing some stress is normal, but if it starts becoming a regular thing then something need to change.



Unfortunately, experiencing stress is considered to be a normal thing when it is on occasion and doesn’t last very long. When you feel stressed about work, helping the planet, or worrying about a loved one these stresses can all be quite normal.

However, if these anxieties and stresses become a normal part of your daily life then that is considered chronic stress. Chronic stress can start to effect our jobs, relationships, spiritual growth, and brains.

Not only does stress hurt our brain but prolonged exposure can harm our metabolism, heart, and immune system. Long-term memory and spatial navigation rely on the brain’s hippocampus which will start to atrophy when we are stressed over a longer period of time.

“Pathological anxiety and chronic stress are associated with structural degeneration and impaired functioning of the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which may account for the increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders, including depression and dementia,” said Dr. Linda Mah.

Dr. Mah who is an assistant professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto concluded in her research that the effects of chronic stress are “not completely irreversible.” If we can get our stress under control then we can start to heal our brains and possibly reverse the damage.

“Looking to the future, we need to do more work to determine whether interventions, such as exercise, mindfulness training and cognitive behavioural therapy, can not only reduce stress but decrease the risk of developing neuropsychiatric disorders,” said Dr. Mah

Mindfulness can help

Mindfulness and other stress-relieving practices such as yoga and exercise can help you rebalance your mind and better handle the waves of stress that come into your life. Mindfulness is a technique that has been proven to help people slow down, stay in the moment and reduce stress.

Mindfulness is a technique where one becomes fully immersed in the moment and experiences each sense in that moment. If there are birds chirping, a warm shining sun, or a green tree then all of these senses are fully enjoyed in that moment. Mindfulness also helps you become neutral and observe the present moment instead of reacting to it.

Many people practice this technique by observing the urge to scratch an itch instead of immediately scratching it. They learn to have a pause between stimulus and response in order to gain greater self-mastery over themselves and their life. Believe it or not, all of these subtle techniques can reduce stress and help heal your brain.

Mundane Tasks can become your ally

Did you know that doing mundane tasks such as washing the dishes can be relaxing? Florida State University has found that when you wash the dishes while using mindfulness techniques it will decrease stress while calming your mind.



The study looked at whether or not washing dishes could be used as a contemplative practice that helped to create a positive state of mind while focusing on the present moment.

“I’ve had an interest in mindfulness for many years, both as a contemplative practitioner and a researcher,” said doctoral candidate Adam Hanley, “I was particularly interested in how the mundane activities in life could be used to promote a mindful state and, thus, increase overall sense of well-being.”

The study was conducted with 51 students. The students were instructed to wash the dishes while focusing on the smell of the soap, feel of the dishes and the warmth of the water. The students reported that the activity reduces their nervousness by 27% while also increasing their levels of inspiration by 25%. 

The control group that washed the dishes without using any meditation or mindfulness technique found no added benefits from the activity. So the next time you are in a position of doing a ‘mundane task’ use mindfulness and make that task one that relieves stress and gives your brain a break.

Let us know in the comments below what you do to reduce stress.

Want to learn how to make mindfulness a part of your daily life? Check out our guide here!


Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. “Chronic stress, anxiety can damage the brain, increase risk of major psychiatric disorders.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 January 2016. 

Florida State University. “Chore or stress reliever: Study suggests that washing dishes decreases stress.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 October 2015. 

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