Neuroscience and Stress

At the Merit Club we are fascinated with what makes our brains tick! Every Wednesday we will be digging a little deeper into this with our Neuroscience Wednesdays series. Finding videos and articles on subjects from love through to leadership and addiction, these blogs will cover a range of ideas and theories that help us understand our mind better, have the power to shape our lives and the way we think. 

This week on Neuroscience Wednesday, the Merit Club brings you this insightful video all about stress and how one particular type of stress can effect our brain's physical structure and its functions. 

Get in control of your stress before it takes control of you.
— Madhumita Murgia

From time to time we have all felt isolated, moody, restless and have often found ourselves forgetting little things and feeling overwhelmed.... and this is mostly all down to STRESS.


For some us, that feeling of stress can actually be beneficial. It can act as a boost of energy and gives us that extra focus we need to help us stay alert during the task at hand. However it's important to note that when we experience this feeling for too long, stress can actually cause changes to the brain. Cortisol has been shown to damage and kill cells in the hippocampus (the brain area responsible for your episodic memory) and there is robust evidence that chronic stress causes premature brain aging. Stress seems to make your brain more vulnerable to damage such as strokes, ageing and stressful events.

There are a few different types of stress

  1. Acute stress - this is a common type of stress that comes from the pressures and demands of the past and the anticipated ones in the future. It can creep up in anyone's life but it is manageable.

  2. Episodic acute stress - this form of stress happens in people that suffer with acute stress frequently and seem to have disordered lives. They seem to always be in a rush and have too much on their plate.

  3. Chronic stress - the type of stress that wears people down day after day. The type of stress that sneaks up on us when we are overworked, sleep deprived or have arguments at home.


Your body’s stress response kicks in when you perceive you are under threat. Stress begins with a series of interactions between your endocrine glands in the brain and adrenal glands in your kidney. Once your brain has decided there’s a danger, it sends immediate nerve signals down your spinal cord to your adrenal glands telling them to release the hormone adrenaline. Once released, adrenaline increases the amount of sugar in your blood, increases your heart rate and raises your blood pressure. Your brain also sends signals to release cortisol, a hormone that prepares your body for action.

How does this affect the brain?

In survival mode cortisol can be life saving - it helps regulate your body functions. However when we are under constant stress, cortisol continues to be released and this is what is dangerous for your brain. Chronic stress increases the amount of neural connections in the amygdala, the fear control centre in the brain.  As the cortisol levels increase, electric signals in the hippocampus deteriorate along with your ability to control stress. This isn't the only effects of cortisol, too much of this hormone can cause your brain to shrink in size meaning that it can make it difficult to learn new things. 

But don't worry too much, there is always something you can do to help

Luckily it is possible to reverse the effects cortisol has had on its surroundings and you can take control of your body and your mind. Don't forget to take time out from moments of stress and consciously try to bring a healthy balance back into your life.


Be sure to check out one of the Merit Club's meditation events, which we host every month to help you relieve that stress and have 60 minutes to focus solely on yourself.