I saw an article in the Yale News detailing research showing that stress actually causes the brain to shrink! We’ve often been warned about the damaging effects that stress can have on our physical condition. We now know that stress effects both the mental and physical aspects of the brain. “Experiencing stressful life events, such as a divorce or job loss, can reduce gray matter in critical regions of the brain that regulate emotion and important physiological functioning,” the research summary states.
Not great news. We see this when our clients go through traumatic life experiences, such as critical illnesses, job loss, job demotion, divorce, or loss of a loved one. In times of difficult transitions, I believe there are ways to mitigate the stress and its negative effect on your brain:
1) Don’t Rush
All transitions have a grieving phase, even if you forced the transition. Give yourself time, don’t rush it. There is no timetable for grief. Do not make major decisions during this time. Recognize that your brain is under stress and it may not be operating at its top effectiveness during this time period.
2) Focus on what you can control
Don’t make matters worse by worrying about things you cannot control or change. You can’t change other people, and you can’t change what has already happened. Focus on the items in your life you can control.
3) Lean on your support group and build new ones
These are the times when you may need your friends and family the most – tap into them! Many of us are uncomfortable asking for help, yet we are more than ready and willing to help others. Recognize that your support group is there for you. There are more organized support groups for various stressful events such as caregiver, major medical issues, recent divorces. Check these out and see if one might help you.
I’m a big believer that exercise, even merely walking regularly, can help clear your mind of the stress. It will keep you mind and body in better shape.
These strategies won’t completely eliminate the pain you may feel going through these life transitions. However, they can help you cope and maintain your own physical and mental well-being.