Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. In ancient times, a stress response could motivate our ancestors to run from a predator or search for food in times of famine.
This “fight-or-flight” response can help us escape from dangerous situations. But in today’s age, many people experience stress responses to everyday events.
You might experience stress reactions to getting stuck in traffic or disconnected from a virtual meeting. Over time, this stress keeps building up.
Scientists have recently learned more about how stress and depression are related. If you experience high and ongoing stress, this puts you at risk of developing other conditions like anxiety and depression.
Continuous stress can actually alter the structuring of your brain! Researchers believe that this is at the heart of the stress and depression connection.
Let’s walk through the basics of this relationship and discuss how stress works in the brain. You’ll also learn about steps you can take to counter stress in your own life.
Keep reading to find out more about this fascinating connection!
Stress and the Human Brain
You might have a good sense of how depression affects your brain. But what about stress?
Humans evolved the stress response to deal with environmental threats. The human brain orchestrates this response like a seasoned conductor. When you detect a threat, your brain absorbs this information in the amygdala. This brain region is important for processing emotions.
After the amygdala hears about the threat, it sends a signal to another region called the hypothalamus. This part of the human brain sends commands to other regions.
When the hypothalamus realizes there is a threat, it activates a part of the nervous system. This is what causes the “fight-or-flight” response.
The nervous system tells other parts of the body to begin a stress reaction. It tells the heart to beat faster. This pumps blood faster and prepares the body for action. Blood pressure increases, breathing speeds up, and the lungs get ready to work overtime. Senses get sharper, which helps you detect the threat more clearly.
This all happens in an instant. If you’re experiencing a stress reaction, you won’t realize it until your body has already activated the nervous system.
As you can imagine, stress takes a toll on your body. All these systems have to work in overdrive to keep up with a perceived threat.
If your body is constantly in stress mode, you might experience negative physical effects like weight changes or insomnia. You might also experience a range of mental health conditions.
Stress and Depression
Recent studies have examined the link between stress and depression. Scientists hypothesized that chronic stress leads to brain changes over time. This in turn impacts the brain’s ability to counter depression.
They found that certain brain areas like the amygdala and hippocampus are impacted by stress. These same regions can contribute to developing depression.
When you experience stress, your body also produces extra cortisol. This stress hormone has many different effects on the body.
Cortisol can increase blood sugar, which might cause weight gain over time. It also changes the way your immune system works. Cortisol can suppress the reproductive system and impact fertility.
Too much cortisol can increase your risk for other conditions like:
- Heart problems
- Increased weight
- Anxiety and depression
- Attention issues
Researchers know that people with depression have elevated levels of cortisol in their blood. Chronic stress can contribute to these high levels.
People who grow up in stressful environments might be at greater risk of depression. One study indicated that people who experienced child abuse early in life might struggle to regulate stress levels as adults.
When you experience abuse at a young age, this can physically alter your brain structure. It can also cause your body to produce stress hormones that it wouldn’t normally.
The good news? No matter what your past experiences, you can take steps to control your stress levels today. It’s never too late to begin your journey to better health!
Ways to Counter Stress
By making a few easy lifestyle changes, you can take charge of your stress levels.
- Exercising — One great way to reduce stress is through regular exercise. Something as simple as a 20-minute walk can do the trick. You don’t need to run a marathon to get your stress in check. You can take a virtual Pilates class, walk with a friend, or just dance to a few favorite tunes. Getting your body moving helps counter the natural stress response.
- Meditating — Many people who struggle with stress also find meditation or yoga helpful. When you meditate regularly, you can lower blood pressure and increase a sense of calm.
- TMS Therapy — If you’re dealing with stress and depression, you might also consider TMS therapy. This revolutionary procedure creates a magnetic field and electrical current in your brain to counter mental illness at the source.
TMS in a Nutshell
Our brain communicates with pulses of electricity through nerve cells called neurons. In brains with long-term stress and depression, researchers believe these energy pulses become unbalanced in mental conditions.
TMS stimulates the brain in a safe and non-invasive way. This procedure can help restore your brain’s natural electrical signaling process.
If you find it difficult to manage stress and depression, why not give TMS therapy a try? This innovative process has helped many people just like you take charge of their mental health.
We might not be able to control certain external forces in our lives. And these forces might cause high levels of stress for long periods of time.
But stress and depression can be treated with the right support.
Putting Your Best Brain Forward
It’s normal to struggle with stress. We all go through difficult periods in life. But you don’t have to do it alone.
Here at Brain Center TMS, we prioritize the well-being of every client. For those facing stress and depression, our committed team is here to help!
If you’d like to learn more about how our San Diego TMS Center can help, get in touch! Schedule a free consultation today to learn more. Or, head to our TMS Procedure page to learn about the treatment process.