Stress – a known hazard
- Stress activates skin immune cells, resulting in itchy skin.
- Stress triggers or exacerbates conditions of mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression – even post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). And this stress-related depression can shorten your life.
- Chronic stress harms sleep duration, worsens sleep quality, and interferes with daytime functioning.
- Children whose mothers were highly stressed during pregnancy are more likely to become victims of bullying at school.
- Stressed parents have children with more cavities.
- Psychosocial stress increases breast cancer aggressiveness.
- Lasting stress significantly elevates type 2 diabetes risk.
- Experiencing prenatal stress may make you more sensitive to stress as an adult.
- Intense stress has been implicated in stroke risks.
Research connecting stress and memory loss
This is not the first study to connect chronic stress with changes in the prefrontal cortex, but this research effort has revealed the how it happens – what neural stress responses actually harm many mental abilities.
The study focused on the effect of repeated stress on the working memory of rats. Researchers found that stress interfered with the connections between neurons (synapses) in the front of the brain: the prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontal cortex controls both your working memory and your decision-making prowess. Unfortunately, stress hormones in the brain zero in on the synaptic connections in this part of the brain. The number of connections remained constant, but not their functioning; researchers report that the connection quality took a dive, which they identified as a drop in glutamate receptor activity on the very neurons that are known to the quash memory function.
With prefrontal cortex dysfunction to blame for many stress-related mental disorders, as well as memory and decision-making, figuring out the molecular mechanisms affected by stress is a substantial step forward in our ability to understand how stress influences mental abilities.
Is there Light at the end of the stress tunnel?
The answer appears to “yes,” at least in mice. The researchers used chemicals known as protease inhibitors, injecting them into the prefrontal cortex. They discovered that this infusion blocked the glutamate receptor damage done by stress.
Today, this is good news for mice. But in the future, scientists suspect that this infusion technique may be usable on the human brain as a treatment to prevent the effects that repeated stress has on our brains.
Ways to reduce stress in the workplace
For example, many studies have tied physical exercise to stress reduction. Providing facilities for employee physical activities (ball courts, fitness centers, game fields, and showers/locker rooms) and encouraging work breaks for using these facilities may provide beneficial stress relief to employees that, in turn, could boost productivity by reducing stress-related memory loss.