Stressing out is the worst.

I’m currently feeling New Mum Stress. Can someone say Bed Time? My spidey senses are heightened to the max. I hear even the slightest movement or ‘coo’ and I go into hyper-rescue mode. Other stressors I have felt include Work Stress, Family Stress, and Boyfriend Stress.

Everybody knows that stress is bad for you. But how bad is it? And how can we make it better?

Well let me tell ya! As I’ve been studying this topic for my Master’s degree in Behavioural Decision Science, I thought I would put this knowledge to good use and share.

In the Annual Review of Neuroscience, Phelps and Lempert found various connections between emotion (stress/mood) and decision-making, and more specifically, how stress can seriously alter brain function. As the review is quite long, I’ve highlighted the main points as simply as possible.

Quick biology lesson. When you are stressed the brain thinks you are in danger and the nerve sends a signal down the spinal cord to the adrenal gland which releases the hormone adrenaline and increases the amount of sugar in the blood, increases heart rate, and raises blood pressure.

The hypothalamus sends a signal to the pituitary gland and stimulates the adrenal cortex to produce a stress hormone called cortisol, which keeps blood sugar and blood pressure up to help you escape from danger.

However, we aren’t really in danger which is why we need to learn how to de-stress. Due to evolution, our emotions drive our instincts and in turn alter our cognitive abilities.

Here are some of the effects of stress found from this study,

  • You are more likely to be selfish.
  • You are more likely to take risky choices.
  • You are more likely to make poor judgments in personal moral decisions.
  • You are more likely to make impulsive decisions.
  • You are more likely to make egocentric moral decisions.
  • You will tend to use previously learned information (habitual) to problem solve even when that is not the best route to solve the problem.

Not only does stress effect life choices, they found that mood can alter decision making abilities as well. 

  • When you are sad, you are more likely to buy products at a higher price
  • A disgust mood makes you want to buy and sell products at lower prices
  • Sad moods can increase preferences toward high-risk options, whereas anxious moods bias preferences toward low-risk options (Raghunathan & Pham 1999).
  • Fear results in less risk seeking and anger results in more risk seeking
  • Positive moods can exaggerate the tendency to overweigh losses relative to gains (i.e., loss aversion) in risky gambles (Isen et al. 1988)

So, now that we know stress and mood is proven to effect a majority of our daily decisions, the big question is, how do we learn to de-stress?

WINE! obviously.

But for real…. here are scientifically proven ways to de-stress (although I do think wine has been proven to lower blood pressure….).

  1. Go for a walk. The endorphins from light exercise will let your blood flow freely back into your brain so that you can start feeling right as rain!
  2. Sex! Oxytocin is a big pain reliever and levels out your hormones. It’s been proven that even kissing relieves stress by awakening the endorphins. So even if you’re not feeling in the mood, give your loved one a wee kiss!
  3. Listen to music. This is my fav. Music lowers blood pressure and slows your heart rate. The blood flows to your brain and increases dopamine levels.
  4. Eat something. No, no, not the Cheetos! Grab a healthy snack that is filling, like an avocado or banana. Potassium regulates blood pressure. “The connection between the gut and brain is huge — called the ‘gut-brain axis’ — and lots of interesting data supports the idea that the gut is a major mediator of the stress response,” Dr. Drew Ramsey, an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and the author of The Happiness Diet
  5. Watch some stand-up or surf through YouTube. Laughter is key to making you feel better as it releases lots of endorphins. “Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain,” explains the Mayo Clinic.
  6. Turn off your phone! It’s proven that your phone is a source of anxiety. Check out this article by EverDay Health. In their study they found, “The more often someone checks a phone for personal reasons the more stress rises.”
  7. Breathe deeply 10 times. Sometimes you need more than 10 breaths, but this is an average of how many times you should breathe in for 5 seconds and breathe out for 7 seconds. Basically, breathe in for as long as you can and then breathe out for longer. You need to breathe deeply as if you’re making a balloon shape in your stomach. (For More, 6 Breathing Exercises to Relax in 10 Minutes or Less)
  8. Go see a friend! Studies show that being around friends decreases production of cortisol (that nasty stress chemical!). Grab your boots and get walking to see that friend!

Hopefully this sheds light on how much stress can alter your daily life so that you make the adjustments you need to live a more stress-free existence!


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29 thoughts on “How Stress Affects Brain Function & 8 Ways to De-stress”

  1. This is a great post, you definitely need coping strategies for mum stress. Although, if you have child number two, you may not think 7 weeks is quite such a long sex drought though!! 😀 #abitofeverthing

  2. Love this and I agree with all but especially music and walking. Being a new mum is a bit stressful at times but taking baby boy for a walk or playing music always does us both the world of good! xx #TheBabyFormula

  3. Since becoming a mum I’ve turned into a total stress monster. Almost everything stresses me out! I’m at my worst when we have to be out the door by a certain time, so a lot of these tips won’t help with that, but I can definitely do the deep breathing, even if we’re running late! Great post!

  4. I’m really feeling stressed out lately. Your research is well thought out and makes a lot of sense. I definitely needed to read this today. I’ve been trying to focus on breathing more slowly and doing some silent meditation. I’m pinning and stumbling this post. Tweeting also! Happy Friday! <3

    1. Thanks so much for sharing! Through my research I was shocked to find how much stress can effect your life so I thought it was really important to share! Hopefully it puts things into perspective. : ) I think daily meditation helps a lot, even if it’s just for 10mins. I’m using this app called Headspace..check it out!

    1. Oh gosh that must be really tough! Hopefully your all feeling better now, should be less stressful with them back in school this week…maybe ; ) ! Check out the Headspace app I swear it helps you get a little bit more in tune with yourself. Especially when you’re trying to juggle 5,000 things a the same time.

  5. Lots of interesting notions here. I think “When you are sad, you are more likely to buy products at a higher price” – this is very true and also the things you don’t not necessary too. I usually go for eating when stress – but I should really looking at eating more healthier. Thank you for sharing and linking up with us. #FabFridayPost

  6. Great tips! Thanks for sharing and …. wine does help too, it also helps with a good night’s sleep 🙂
    I remember learning about some of this in our nct classes to do with the stages of birth and the hormones that were acting at different points. Thanks for sharing #TheBabyFormula

  7. I am trying to manage my stress levels at the moment being pregnant in a high pressure job which I only have a month left at and loads to do is quite stressful!! This has been helpful for ideas how I can destress before bed as its keeping me up at night!! Thank you for sharing and for joining us at #BloggerClubUK hope to see you again this week x

    1. Ah I went through the same thing when I was pregnant, my job took priority over the pregnancy, high pressured and loads of work as well. Then finally I decided that this was the only time I would be pregnant (at least for a while) so I should try to enjoy it. I started doing a lot of meditation and yoga. I think that helped but I think the biggest thing that helped was just changing my perspective on the way I looked at my work and my life. For bed time, I also found turning off all screens (phone, TV, computer) before bed and putting a candle on, turning down the lights and deep breathing helped. : ) I also did hypnobirthing classes instead of NCT clasea which I think we’re more useful for just de-stressing ha ha!

  8. Great post! I studied stress and even wrote about coping with stress for my psychology dissertation and I still struggle with it, hence my journey to find mindfulness and my inner calm. Also, stress can make you stupid! When you’re in full-on fight or flight mode and the emotional brain is in control you can’t make rational decisions. The breathing techniques are a great idea, I use the ‘breathing out for longer than breathing in’ to calm me on a regular basis. Thanks for sharing these tips 🙂 #bigpinklink

  9. Great post! I studied stress and even wrote about coping with stress for my psychology dissertation and I still struggle with it, hence my journey to find mindfulness and my inner calm. Also, stress can make you stupid! When you’re in full-on fight or flight mode and the emotional brain is in control you can’t make rational decisions. The breathing techniques are a great idea, I use the ‘breathing out for longer than breathing in’ to calm me on a regular basis. Thanks for sharing these tips 🙂 #bigpinklink

    1. Same! I do the breathing as well! That’s so funny, I just wrote a paper on this for my course. I’m doing my dissertation on a slightly different topic, more related to my job, digital versus the outside world and human behaviour. I’ll probably write about it later!! Anyway thanks for commenting interesting insight. : )

  10. I’m inspired that you have fingers in so many pies! Your job, studying for a masters, writing a brilliant blog, being obviously so super duper clever…!! This is eye opening, and really informative. I have enormous problems with stress, and (although I will keep and reread this,) have very little idea on how to cope with it. I can’t remember what it’s like to NOT feel stressed anymore. I feel stressed from the minute we all get up in the morning, when the carousel of the kitchen cupboards begins, and about 5 different breakfasts are rejected, and everyone is screaming, to the end of the day, when I finally creep out of the eldests bedroom, only for him to sit bolt upright, demand to know why I have the audacity to leave the room, and suddenly decide he’s going to scream the house down unless I can tell him where bread comes from. My heart races all day, I’m always tired and foggy, and I literally can’t make decisions. I overthink things, and wonder if I’ve turned them into situations that are totally different to what they actually are, and never trust anything I’m thinking. I haven’t been able to lose any weight in the three years I’ve been trying, because the gp is sure that the stress induced high blood sugar has caused me to become insulin resistant-so it’s safe to say this is impacting my life quite significantly! Do I sound totally mental yet?! I didn’t used to be this way, I promise! Anyway, I will start having Michael McIntyre on in the background all day-he makes me properly pee my pants! I already go to the gym and do lots of walking with the buggy. I really struggle with deep breathing, and switching off. If I close my eyes and try and focus on clearing my mind, I literally just can’t. My mind just wanders, and continues to be erratic, no matter how hard I try to focus!
    If you have any more information on this, can you pop it over to me? Thanks for sharing with #bigpinklink!

    1. Okay yes I will send more info over! It sounds like you have tried a lot already! What about a yoga or meditation class?? Various studies have found having even as little as 10 minutes to just think of whatever you want, let your mind be free but sit with your eyes closed with no other disruptions will help. There’s an app called Headspace that has a guided meditation session that might be easier than trying to do it on your own. Oh…masterbation helps!! Lol I’m not even joking though, the chemical oxytocin is released and relaxes your muscles in your body and your brain. Anyway, I’ll send more, I don’t want you to be stressed! Thanks for hosting!

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