|Can Stress Damage The Brain?
The Answer to this intriguing question is a resounding “YES!!!”
This question was so intriguing to me personally that, when I saw the book “Does Stress
Damage The Brain?” by J. Douglas Bremner, M.D., I absolutely had to own a copy of it. Dr.
Bremner is the Director of the Emory Center for Positron Emission Tomography (PET Scans)
at Emory University Hospital and the Director of Mental health Research at the Atlanta
Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Through his research, Dr. Bremner, has clearly demonstrated that stress does, in fact, damage
the human brain and it does so in two rather different ways.
Damage From Chronic Stress
The most common way in which stress damages the brain is so very rampant that it could
apply to any of us. This pathway is through chronic stress. The key measure of the stress
response involves the measurement of the stress hormones Adrenaline and Cortisol.
You probably already have familiarity with adrenaline. That's the response you experience
when you are startled or find yourself in a threatening situation. As you know, adrenalin
speeds up your heart rate. You can feel it. Adrenalin also increases blood flow to your
skeletal muscles and to your brain.
This is all part of the “Fight, Flight, Freeze Response.” Its purpose is so you can think more
quickly and clearly about how to deal with the situation and so you can have the energy and
strength to defend yourself or to run for your life. The emotions of anger, shame and fear
always seem to produce an adrenalin response.
You've probably already figured out that the adrenaline response is, evolutionarily speaking,
a very primitive response. In other words it was quite appropriate for us when we lived in
caves but not so appropriate for us in today's world where we usually no longer have to
defend ourselves physically. Chronically high levels of adrenaline are known to raise blood
pressure and can take a huge toll on your body contributing to heart and kidney disease,
heart attacks and strokes.
Cortisol is another matter entirely. Cortisol is your body's own natural steroid. As such,
Cortisol decreases the inflammation response and it dampens the responses of the immune
system. Cortisol also causes significant changes in the brain. That's why people who are
under chronic stress typically find that they cannot think as clearly as they would normally. A
chronic overreaction to stress overloads the brain with these powerful hormones that are
intended only for short-term duty in emergency situations. Their cumulative effect damages
and kills brain cells.
To learn more about the effects of Adrenaline and Cortisol on your body, try this link to The
Franklin Institute. It will open in a new window.
Brain Damage From Traumatic Stress
The other way is through traumatic stress. Traumatic stress may not apply to you since fewer
than 25% of Americans have experienced traumatic stress first hand.
Traumatic stress might involve a situation where a person is in fear for his or her life. This is
the kind of thing that happens to soldiers in war or civilians when they are in a very serious
accident or attacked as in a robbery or mugging or the witnesses and survivors of the terrorist
attacks on September 11, 2001. It can also happen as a result of any type of physical or
emotional abuse including spousal abuse, parental abuse or sexual abuse.
The result of traumatic situations such as this is something called “Post Traumatic Stress
Disorder.” With PTSD, as it is typically referred to, a former soldier might experience
flashbacks where it seems as if they are re-living a life threatening experience. With civilians,
PTSD tends to focus more on significantly increased levels of anxiety and often in sleep
disturbances sometimes including very serious nightmares. Since a smaller percentage of
people ever suffer from PTSD, it is not as common as something like depression or anxiety
disorder. However, since the September 11th terrorist attacks, PTSD has shown up not just in
people who were there on the scene but also in people who only witnessed the tragic events on
The big question is not just whether stress can damage your brain, which it obviously can,
but rather, what to do about it. This is where stress reduction training through hypnosis
comes in. Back in the late 1960s Herbert Benson, M.D., conducted research into the human
relaxation response. His first book, “The Relaxation Response,” explains his findings. Simply
put, Dr. Benson proved that the human body does indeed have an involuntary relaxation
response but unlike the stress response which is automatic, the relaxation response is not. The
relaxation response is one of only two natural ways to reduce the two most destructive stress
hormones that your body produces: Cortisol and Adrenaline.
What Dr. Benson demonstrated is that through hypnosis it is possible to trigger this
relaxation response and decrease your body's stress hormone levels.
This is where what I do comes in. I can teach you hypnotic methods of triggering your body's
own relaxation response and, even more importantly, I can also help you to change the stress
patterns caused by the perceptions in your unconscious mind and help reduce your stress
Stress is generally recognized to be caused by your mind's perceptions of the danger
associated with any given situation. Through my hypnosis it is possible to change your
unconscious mind's perceptions to the kinds of situations you typically experience in your life
so that your stress response is simply not triggered in those situations.
Yesterday is History, Tomorrow is Mystery.
Each new day brings with it a chance for a new beginning. The choices you
make today don't have to be influenced by what happened to you in the
past. Today, right now, this very moment, is your only moment of power.
Right now is the only opportunity you have to begin changing the
undesirable patterns in your unconscious mind that keep you trapped in the
past. This is what my Wilson Method Empowerment Hypnosis© helps you to
do. Use this moment, right now to make a new and better choice for you.
Edward John Wilson, M.Ed., L.P.C., C.Ht.