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Understanding the Impact of Stress
on Brain Development and Learning
   Merriam-Webster define stress as:
    A physical, chemical or emotional factor that
    causes bodily or mental tension
   Acute stress is general short-term with a
    clearly defined beginning and end
   Chronic stress is long-term and pr...
   Triggering of the sympathetic nervous system
    which prepares the body to deal with
    perceived threat by:
    ◦ I...
◦ Shorter form of
  the serotonin
  transporter is
  associated with
  vulnerability to
  increased
  response to
  stress...
◦ An allele of the monoamine oxidase A gene result
  in more vulnerability to abuse in childhood,
  increased risk of beco...
   Early abuse can result in life long emotional
    reactivity and stress hormone reactivity –
    both associated with ...
   Stress reduction in infants can be influenced
    by maternal bonding through a variety of
    factors
    ◦ Physical ...
   Males most typically mirror the fight or flight
    response

   Females engage fight or flight AND befriend
   There is an inverted relationship between
    learning and levels of cortisol
   During acute stress, higher levels o...
   The Hippocampus is
    the brain structure
    primarily responsible
    for learning and
    memory
   The Hippocamp...
   Within the Hippocampus, is the dentate gyrus,
    a structure which seems to play a role in the
    memory of sequence...
   Cortisol inhibits long-
    term potentiation – cell
    sensitivity in
    communication
   Adolescent brain is more...
   Repeated or chronic stress causes dendritic
    shortening in the medial prefrontal cortex
   The results in impairme...
   Both acute and chronic stress produce
    dendritic growth in neurons in the amygdala.
   The results of include:
   ...
   In animal research, chronic stress causes
    atrophy of neurons in the hippocampus and
    prefrontal cortex
   and
...
   The results from
    animal studies are
    mirrored in humans
    through a loss of
    hippocampal volume
    and an...
   Learn stress
    management – variety
    of techniques
   Problem-focused –
    changing the stressor
   Emotion fo...
   Physical

   Cognitive

   Emotional

   Behavioral
   Physical Techniques:
      Exercise                   Meditation




                    Relaxation
   Cognitive Techniques:
    Social Comparisons           Re-Evaluation




                   Distraction
   Emotional Techniques:
    Social Support              Release




                     Laughter
   Behavioral Techniques:
                Helping Others
   Optimism is associated with lower cortisol
    production and higher heart rate variability
    (showing higher parasy...
   Poor self-esteem has
    debilitating effects:
    ◦ Increased levels of cortisol
    ◦ Inability to regulate cortisol...
   Improve sleep quality and quantity
   Have a good social support system
   Maintain a positive outlook on life
   M...
   McEwen, B.S. Protective and damaging effects
    of stress mediators: central role of the brain.
    New England Journ...
Q&A
       Robin Donaldson,
rdonaldson@nationalsafeplace.org
The Effects of Stress And The Brain
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The Effects of Stress And The Brain

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The Effects of Stress And The Brain

  1. 1. Understanding the Impact of Stress on Brain Development and Learning
  2. 2.  Merriam-Webster define stress as: A physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension
  3. 3.  Acute stress is general short-term with a clearly defined beginning and end  Chronic stress is long-term and prolonged stress with no clear ending  Both acute and chronic stress trigger the physiological stress response
  4. 4.  Triggering of the sympathetic nervous system which prepares the body to deal with perceived threat by: ◦ Increase of heart rate and blood pressure ◦ Increase of cortisol – “stress” hormone which has anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties ◦ Decline of parasympathetic activity which regulates “automatic” bodily functions and maintains homestasis
  5. 5. ◦ Shorter form of the serotonin transporter is associated with vulnerability to increased response to stress by developing depressive illness and alcoholism
  6. 6. ◦ An allele of the monoamine oxidase A gene result in more vulnerability to abuse in childhood, increased risk of becoming an abuser & show antisocial behaviors.
  7. 7.  Early abuse can result in life long emotional reactivity and stress hormone reactivity – both associated with cognitive decline and shorter lifespan in animal studies
  8. 8.  Stress reduction in infants can be influenced by maternal bonding through a variety of factors ◦ Physical proximity ◦ Modeling  Early patterns “hard-wire” the stress response –critical period during 1st nine months
  9. 9.  Males most typically mirror the fight or flight response  Females engage fight or flight AND befriend
  10. 10.  There is an inverted relationship between learning and levels of cortisol  During acute stress, higher levels of cortisol result in: ◦ Enhanced immunity ◦ Enhanced memory During chronic or prolonged stress, the increased levels of cortisol result in: ◦ lower immune response ◦ Impaired cognitive functioning
  11. 11.  The Hippocampus is the brain structure primarily responsible for learning and memory  The Hippocampus is highly sensitive and malleable  Cortisol decreases and retracts the dendritic growth in the hippocampal area
  12. 12.  Within the Hippocampus, is the dentate gyrus, a structure which seems to play a role in the memory of sequences of events  It has high plasticity and is constantly producing new neurons, even throughout adult life.  Certain types of stress suppress neurogenesis and cell survival in the dentate gyrus
  13. 13.  Cortisol inhibits long- term potentiation – cell sensitivity in communication  Adolescent brain is more receptive to long-term potentiation without interference
  14. 14.  Repeated or chronic stress causes dendritic shortening in the medial prefrontal cortex  The results in impairment in attention set shifting
  15. 15.  Both acute and chronic stress produce dendritic growth in neurons in the amygdala.  The results of include: ◦ Increases anxiety ◦ Increased aggression
  16. 16.  In animal research, chronic stress causes atrophy of neurons in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex  and  Hypertrophy of neurons in the amygdala  Results: ◦ Decreased learning and memory ◦ Increased anxiety and aggression
  17. 17.  The results from animal studies are mirrored in humans through a loss of hippocampal volume and an increase in amygdala volume in MRI studies  PET scans also demonstrate altered patterns of activity in the related brain areas during stress
  18. 18.  Learn stress management – variety of techniques  Problem-focused – changing the stressor  Emotion focused – changes our response to the stressor
  19. 19.  Physical  Cognitive  Emotional  Behavioral
  20. 20.  Physical Techniques: Exercise Meditation Relaxation
  21. 21.  Cognitive Techniques: Social Comparisons Re-Evaluation Distraction
  22. 22.  Emotional Techniques: Social Support Release Laughter
  23. 23.  Behavioral Techniques: Helping Others
  24. 24.  Optimism is associated with lower cortisol production and higher heart rate variability (showing higher parasympathetic activity)  Optimistic people are, on average, healthier and live longer than pessimistic people  Optimistic people have higher levels of life satisfaction
  25. 25.  Poor self-esteem has debilitating effects: ◦ Increased levels of cortisol ◦ Inability to regulate cortisol levels under stress ◦ 12-13% loss of hippocampal volume
  26. 26.  Improve sleep quality and quantity  Have a good social support system  Maintain a positive outlook on life  Maintain a healthy diet  Avoid smoking  Regularly exercise – moderate activity  Build positive self-esteem  Learn successful stress management
  27. 27.  McEwen, B.S. Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators: central role of the brain. New England Journal of Medicine. 1998, 338: 171-179
  28. 28. Q&A Robin Donaldson, rdonaldson@nationalsafeplace.org

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