Effects Of Stress On The Brain



Type of Paper

Research Paper English Style English (US)
Subject Area Medicine and Health Writer Category Copper
Academic Level University Sources 7
Number of Pages

7 page(s) / 1925 Words                                

Referencing Style                      MLA
Spacing Double Spaced







Effects of Stress on the Brain



This paper summarizes the primary evidence that depicts the fact that recurring and long-term stressors can result in neuronal disturbances and restructuring of the neurological arrangement. It generally expounds on the manner in which cortisol and traumatic tension can harm an individual’s brain. Moreover, it aims at identifying and comprehending the mechanisms that are caused by hormones and thus, can adequately explain why certain maladaptive alterations can produce stress-related disorders. There is also the primary essence of preserving a healthy brain connectivity and structure by decreasing the levels of chronic stressors in one’s life.



Stress refers to the condition in which there is physiological and psychological tension or strain derived from demanding or adverse situations. It tends to impede and debilitate emotional and cognitive functions thus enhance anxiety, paranoia, and extreme fear; depicting stress-related psychiatric disorders (Kloet, Joels & Holsboer, 2005).  This state can either be a positive or a negative; in the former, the individual is presented with the opportunity to gain something while in the latter, a person faces emotional, social, organizational, and physical issues. The following are causative agents of stress: career alterations, personality, frustrations, civic amenities, technological changes, life alterations, racial, caste, and religious conflicts. Stress tends to leave long-lasting effects and behavioral abnormalities in an individual’s life. Moreover, these chronic stress triggers might result in long-term alterations in the brain functionality and the structure. It therefore depicts the severe impact young individuals exposed to tough life situations, especially in the early phases of their lives, might become prone to mental issues such as learning difficulties, mood disorders, cognitive difficulties, and anxiety.

The brain is the central organ of the human nervous system; its combination with the spinal cord comprises of the central nervous system. It consists of cerebellum, cerebrum, and the brainstem (Kloet, Joels & Holsboer, 2005). The cerebrum is dived into two primary cerebral hemispheres with the cerebral cortex having an outer layer known as the grey matter and an inner core referred to as the white matter. The grey matter consists of densely packed nerve cell bodies and is involved with sensory perception, memory, speech, muscle control, hearing, seeing, self-control, and the decision making process. On the other hand, the white matter is composed of axons comprising of a network of fibers that interconnects the neuronal bodies and hence establish a communication channel between the various brain regions. The fatty myelin sheaths surrounding the axons tend to aid in the speeding up of the flow of electrical signals. Another essential part of the brain to note is the hippocampus that is an important part of the limbic system primarily associated with memory and spatial navigation. Research has revealed that conditions such as autism, PTSD, ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, and suicide tends to alter the structure of the white matter and hence results in emotional disorders known to extend in periods of intense stress (Kloet, Joels & Holsboer, 2005). Prolonged stress results in the hyper-connection of circuits generated from the hardening of network of wires in the brain. There tends to be an excess of the myelin and hence an overwhelming amount of white matter in certain areas of the brain. The brain is developed to naturally eradicate the excess fat through neural pruning in order to promote and maintain effective communication.

Elevated levels of cortisol and intense stress factors generate the overproduction of myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons in comparison to the required amount. Cortisol is also known to aid in the regulation of blood sugar levels in the cells and has a utilitarian value in the hippocampus. This stress hormone is known to establish cumulative effects that ensure an efficient pathway between the amygdale and the hippocampus; thus develops a brutal cycle making the brain predisposed to continuously being in a state of flight – or – fight. Flight is the act of avoiding a bad situation while fight refers to dealing with the problematic issue. This response is a vital aspect of the human function especially when one is in danger, however, the modern world is filled up with stressful scenarios and the tension tends to hijack this procedure hindering day to day functions. Excess levels of cortisol can result in the disruption in synaptic regulation, the killing of brain cells, the reduction of the brain mass, and avoidance of social interaction. The shrinking effects are especially rampant in the prefrontal cortex and increase the volume of the amygdale hence making the brain more susceptive to stress. Persistent and continuous pressure has the ability to cause stem cells to generate cell types that impede the connections to the prefrontal cortex. This process normally results in increased memory and learning capabilities, however, it predisposes the affected person to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Neural stem cells located in the hippocampus normally mature into astrocytes but on experiencing chronic and persistent stress the cells instead mature into glial cells called oligodendrocyte; functions in producing myelin that generates sheaths for nerve cells (Bergland, 2014). These permanent alterations increase the risk for a later development of mental problems. This explains the underlying reason for the development of mental issues since tension reduces the integer of stem cells that develop into neurons and thus affects an individual’s memory and learning capabilities. It is also important to understand the fact that these cells are incapable of developing in an adult.

The adrenal glands are known to secret stress hormones primarily cortisol upon stimulation by neuropeptide-secreting systems situated in the brain, corticotrophin-releasing hormone, and the pituitary gland (Bergland, 2014). Corticosteroid actions are normally actualized by nuclear receptors that are transcriptional regulators; located in limbic neurons. The primary function of the limbic system involves memory processes, appraisal of current experiences, stress adaptation, and learning procedures.  Other areas involved in memory and learning include: amygdale, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus. There are two major receptor types: mineralocorticoids that are involved in the onset of stress, and the glucocorticoids that facilitates the recovery from stress (Chattarji, Tomar, Suvrathan & Ghosh, 2015). Proper binary actions by this system ensure the preservation of mental health and hence determine the ability of an organism to regulate and manage stressful situations in both the acute and recovery phases. Moreover, it functions as a master switch in order to manage network and neuronal responses in relation to behavioral adaptations. In certain instances, an inappropriate response or an imbalance might result in a vulnerable phenotype that will in turn lead to functional and structural alterations to the limbic section of the brain. The aforementioned changes normally involve synaptic plasticity, structural remodeling, and neurogenesis. Nonetheless, it is also fundamental to comprehend the fact that an individual’s genetic makeup and their early life encounters greatly shapes the manner in which one reacts to stressful situations. The genetic background might predispose a person to hypercortisolaemia, hypocortisolaemia, and psychotic syndromes and hence making an individual vulnerable or resilient.

Mental disorders refer to ailments that tend to cause mild to intense disturbances in mannerisms or thought leading to the inability to perform life’s ordinary routines and meeting the daily demands (Chattarji, Tomar, Suvrathan & Ghosh, 2015). There are more than 200 classified categories of mental ailments established by the psychiatric healthcare associations: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, mental disorder, psychosis, psychological stress, posttraumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorder, alcoholism, intellectual disability etc. These illnesses are usually as a result of genetic factors, environmental stressors, and biochemical imbalances. It is fundamental to comprehend the fact that the signs and symptoms of these disorders varies with the age of the individual: young adults, adolescents, pre-adolescents, children, and mature adults. However, despite of their debilitating traits, majority of them can be properly managed and the affected people tend to live a long and productive life through the establishment of support networks, proper handling of unusual behaviors, acceptance of one’s feelings, seeking of counseling, and taking time off daily routines in order to focus on mental health. These disorders usually trigger alterations in the brain’s structural function including variations in the volume of the white versus grey matter and the connectivity of the amygdale.

Neuroplasticity refers to the manner in which the brain is able to reorganize its neural pathways/synaptic connections through life experiences, learning, after infirmity or injury, and alterations in the physical environment (Bergland, 2014). These pathways can also be damaged due to continuous exposure to chronic stress; negatively affects the brain structure.  It usually involves a mechanism known as axonal sprouting; healthy axons grow new nerve endings in order to replace and reconnect the severed links and to forge new neural pathways. Another essential aspect to note is the fact that neuroplasticity can contribute to impairment if the process is inappropriately stimulated and hence not beneficial. This procedure can be referred to as brain malleability or brain plasticity. Age has a primary and direct correlation to the ability of the brain to restructure and reverse the damages caused by various experiences such as stress. It is more strenuous for a much older person to undergo axonal sprouting in comparison to their younger counterparts (Msall MD, 2011). Nonetheless, there are established interventions that aid in combating the effects of stress on the brain and hence promote restructuring such as socializing, daily exercise, and finding one’s purpose.

Generally, the following are the effects on the brain caused by chronic stress through the hormone cortisol. Firstly, there is the creation of radicals that tends to kill the brain cells. The hormone creates an excess of the neurotransmitter glutamate that generates these unattached oxygen molecules that destroy brain cells by punching holes in the cells walls, then leading to them rupturing and eventually death (Buchel, Frouin, Desrivieres & Gowland, 2017). There is also the presence of its personal immune system; microglia, that once activated produces cytokines that cause inflammation to the brain. In addition to that, the stress influences people to develop harmful habits that generate more of these radicals such as junk food, consumption of too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and the loss of sleep.  These factors greatly contribute to the development of serious disorders: Alzheimer’s, Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, and increased risk of suicide. Secondly, there is the development into an excessively emotional and forgetful person; memory problems. Research has revealed that stressful situations results in the weakening of the electric signals involved with factual memories and the strengthening of the areas associated with emotions. Moreover, the hormone normally kills and halts the development of new neurons in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Thirdly, there is the creation of a vicious cycle of anxiety and distress due to the increase in the activities and the number of neural pathways in the amygdale. Another essential effect that ought to be noted is the depletion of vital brain chemicals i.e. serotonin and dopamine, and thus leaving the affected individuals depressed and prone to various addictions. Women experiencing this tend to binge eat, while men become prone to impulse control disorders, alcoholism, and ADHD (Buchel, Frouin, Desrivieres & Gowland, 2017). Lastly, it promotes the entry of toxins into the brain by making the semi-permeable filter and barrier more permeable and hence exposing the brain to brain cancer, multiple sclerosis, and infections.

Other problems that are caused by stress include: increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. In addition to that, important organs might begin to shut down or fail to function properly: the digestive system, reproductive, immune system, and excretory structures. The body might even start to exacerbate already existing ailments.



Consequently, the predominant factor that tends to affect the structure and connectivity of the brain is the stress hormone, cortisol, whose release is normally triggered by various life experiences. There are established and effective methods that can be utilized in an attempt to lower the levels of this hormone such as meditations and regular physical activities. In general, people ought to be encouraged to make better lifestyle decisions in order to improve their mental health. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that not all stress is harmful i.e. training for a competition. This kind of tension tends to assist in the development of a resilient brain while negative stress results in a brain prone to developing mental disorders. Through investigative research, scientists have revealed that neuroplasticity enables the continuous development and alteration of the structure of the brain throughout and individual’s life. It is especially essential to properly identify the interplay between people’s biology, the environment, and the symptoms of mental disorders in order to adequately comprehend the effect of stress on the brain. Stress is an inevitable aspect of life and tends to have significant and adverse effects on the brain’s structure and the comprehension of these consequences helps in the promotion of people’s overall health.














Bergland, C. (2014). Chronic Stress Can Damage Brain Structure and Connectivity. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/chronic-stress-can-damage-brain-structure-and-connectivity

Buchel, C., Frouin, V., Desrivieres, S., & Gowland, P. (2017). Psychiatry Online. Retrieved from https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16040464#.W_X8BW383JU.email

Chattarji, S., Tomar, A., Suvrathan, A., & Ghosh, S. (2015). Neighborhood matters: divergent patterns of stress-induced plasticity across the brain. Nature Neuroscience6(6), 539-539. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.4115

Msall MD, M. (2011). Physiological stress and brain vulnerability: Understanding the neurobiology of connectivity in Preterm Infants. Annals Of Neurology. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ana.22614#.W_X61f2783A.email=0A=0A---

Kloet, R., Joels, M., & Holsboer, F. (2005). Stress and the brain: from adaptation to disease. Nature Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn1683

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