You may have heard that long-term stress is associated with various mental diseases including depression, schizophrenia, or even Alzheimer’s disease, and I’m sure you really want to get rid of that.
It seems like stress will never disappear. The bills won’t stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day, and you are always having your work and family responsibilities. However, managing stress is what you must do to thrive.
How stress is damaging your brain
A group of scientists just found out the mechanism underlying damage of brain functions caused by stress. Previous discovery is proven wrong in the new study.
When researchers did animal studies in the past, they found that generation of new neurons was much less in stressed mice, which meant the cells failed to produce more cells.
However, apoptosis, a cell suicide pathway was not found in neural stem cells (NSCs), leading to a conclusion that cell death was not related to loss of NSCs during stress.
Scientists knew that adult neurogenesis, which is generation of new neural cells in the adult brain, especially in hippocampus, would decline during stress. But since they thought the loss of NSCs was not related to stress, the cause of decline remained unclear.
A new study led by Professor Seong-Woon Yu has revealed that chronic stress causes autophagic death of adult hippocampal NSCs.
Autophagy is a cellular process to protect cells from unfavorable conditions through digestion and recycling of inner cell materials, whereby cells can remove toxic or old intracellular components and get nutrients and metabolites for survival.
However, when under stress, autophagy can turn into a self-destruction process, leading to autophagic cell death which is different from apoptosis.
How this is proved
The scientists removed one of the major autophagic genes, Atg7, of the mice, and discovered that hippocampal NSCs won’t die and normal brain functions are maintained without Atg7.
What’s more, researchers also found out that a gene called SGK3 (serum/glucocorticoid regulated kinase) gene is the trigger for autophagy initiation. When SGK3 gene is removed, hippocampal NSCs do not undergo cell death and are spared from stress.
"It is clear from our study that cognitive defects and mood disorders brought about by stress are through autophagic death of adult hippocampal NSCs. With continuous research, we'll be able to take a step further toward the development of effective treatment of psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety."
"Furthermore, stress-related neurodegenerative diseases including dementia could be also benefited from our study. We hope to be able to develop much faster and more effective mental disease treatments through joint research with the Chinese National Compound Library to develop SGK3 inhibitor together." Said Professor Yu.
It’s extremely difficult to recover from mental diseases like depression or anxiety, so the best way is to prevent them before happening. Here are some tips for stress management.
Identify the sources of stress in your life
Write a stress journal which can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Track your every stress time in your journal. The journal can contain：
What caused my stress (make a guess if you’re unsure)
How I felt, both physically and emotionally
How I acted in response
What I did to make myself feel better
Practice the 4 A’s of stress management
Avoid. Avoid unnecessary stress by learning to say “no”, avoiding people who stress you out, taking control of your environment (like turn off the TV if the content makes you anxious), and paring down your to-do list.
Alter. Alter the situation by expressing your feelings instead of bottling them up, being willing to compromise, and creating a balanced schedule.
Adapt. Adapt to the stressor by reframing problems, looking at the big picture, adjusting your standards, and practicing gratitude.
Accept. Accept the thins you can’t change. For example, don’t try to control the uncontrollable, look for the upside, learn to forgive, and share your feelings.
Physical activity is a huge stress reliever. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel good, and it can also serve as a valuable distraction from your daily worries. You don’t need to spend hours in a gym, cycling, walking, jogging, dancing are all good exercises.
Connect to others
Face-to-face interaction triggers a cascade of hormones that counteracts the body’s defensive “fight-or-flight” response. It’s nature’s natural stress reliever and can help stave off depression and anxiety.
Apart from the tips mentioned above, you can also try to make time for fun and relaxation, manage your time better, and maintain balance with a healthy lifestyle.
Start to relive stress from this moment, I’m sure you’ll feel better.