squeezing a stress ball
At the 2015 meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, Bruce McEwen, professor of neuroscience at Rockefeller University, gave an overview of stress’s effect on the brain. He explained that “chronic stress makes you stupid,” and said that while one can compensate for the effects of chronic stress, one cannot reverse them.
Short-term stress can be helpful, increasing cortisol, with generally positive effects. When stress lasts longer, the chronic increase in cortisol starts to cause problems: impaired memory, endangered neurons, decreased bone and muscle, and metabolic abnormalities.
McEwen said that chronic stress shrinks the dendrites in the medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. A healthy prefrontal cortex is necessary for new learning and memory.
Chronic stress also enlarges the orbital frontal cortex and the amygdala. An oversized orbital frontal cortex can induce habits, making a person susceptible to repetitive thinking and obsessions, addictions, or other compulsive behavior. An oversized amygdala can provoke fear and anxiety.