Stress Makes You Dumb : Relax And Live Smarter

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Photo by Matthew Henry

Life tends to throw a lot of roadblocks our way that we tend to stress about on a daily basis. Money, work, family, relationships . . . for some people the things to stress over outweighs those to be grateful for having. It seems in today’s society stress is something that has become acceptable. We see it in television programs, hear about it at the dinner table, listen to songs about it . . . stress or complaining about it are seemingly everywhere we turn. It seems everyone is looking for the best mattress topper to sleep better and stress less.

We have all heard people voice their concerns over drugs and alcohol because they “kill brain cells” and make you stupider. But what if I told you stress did the same thing? Would society view stress in the same way they do liquor, weed, or back-alley drugs?

How Stress Makes You Dumb

According to Dr. Steven Stein, an EQ Expert at Multi-Health Systems a strong emotional intelligence is central to building relationships with coworkers and improving your performance. He then goes on to say that if stress disables our ability to get along with others, control our emotions, have a positive outlook, and adapt to changes then it will impact our emotional intelligence in a negative way. And it’s been scientifically proven that having a high emotional intelligence is a better indicator of strong workplace performance than having a high IQ. In other words, it doesn’t matter how high your IQ is, stress is going to impact your performance at work and make you seem dumber.

Dr. Travis Bradberry goes further by explaining how stress and complaining can eventually rewire your brain. It can also cause the hippocampus of your brain to shrink according to a Stanford University study. For those unaware, the hippocampus is the part of your brain that is crucial for learning and memory. According to Bradberry:

“Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you. And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus—an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.”

Huffington Post : How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

If stress doesn’t rewire your brain and dissolve your neural connections to make you stupid it can do a great job making you seem it. According to the Harvard Business Review high stress leads to bad decisions. When you’re under stress you’re unable to weigh your options as you would in a relaxed situation. This often leads to you making a bad choice and your colleagues questioning your sanity.

So let’s get this straight. Stress: Rewires your brain? Check. Becomes addictive over time? Yep. Is something other people hate being around? I do. Can kill you? I was about to get to that . . .

How Being Stressed Can Kill

Stress can be deadly and kill you in a number of ways. It’s important to remember that when you’re overthinking the little things. According to NPR stress can lead to:

  1. Elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory
  2. Lower immune function and bone density
  3. Increased blood pressure
  4. Higher cholesterol
  5. Increased chances for heart disease

Yes, proper diet and exercise can help with a lot of these factors (except for the learning and memory) but why would you want to make things harder on yourself? Living a life with less stress means you will have to put in less work to be healthier in the long run.

Ways To Live Stress-Free

Living a stress-free life is harder said than done. Let’s be honest . . . there’s probably no living being on this planet that lives without some sort of stress. Even if they did I can guarantee you they would stress about not stressing at some point. Since living a life without stress is next to impossible, the next best thing is decreasing all of the stress inducers that you do have in your life. These ideas might sound simple, but they will help.

  1. Get some rest: Chances are if you stress you haven’t been getting a lot of sleep or it’s been of poor quality. Take a night to sit down, watch a movie, drink some calming tea, and hit the bed early. Chances are waking up feeling refreshed will help improve your overall stress level.
  2. Play with a puppy or kitty: Research has shown that there are overall improvements to mental health when owning pets. Along with this, owning a pet gives you overall gratification in routine since you have to feed them, walk them, and keep them healthy. Plus, it’s just overall calming to pet a cute animal.
  3. Clean: Having an untidy space can bring on stress for some. There is nothing more mind-numbing than putting on some music and cleaning your space. After you’re done you get instant gratification in accomplishing something you’ve been meaning to do AND a clean space.
  4. Try breathing techniques: There are many of them out there that you can research. Essentially, you want to control your breathing enough to lower your heart rate. This will in turn help calm you down and reduce stress.
  5. List things you’re grateful for having: When you’re stressed the negatives seem to control your life. Take a moment to write down all the things that are going well in your life or that you’re grateful for having. They will help you realize that everything is not as bad as it may seem.
  6. Try new things: It doesn’t matter if you’re bad at them . . . just get out there and try. This is the best way to discover new hobbies or activities that you might enjoy.
  7. Exercise: Everyone knows that it’s a stress reliever, however, not everyone knows how to do it properly. If you’re new to exercising take it easy at first and let your body adapt. Don’t try to run a 5K from straight off your couch, set a goal and work towards it.
  8. Eat: Some say eat healthy, but sometimes your body can be stressed because you haven’t given your body nutrients at some time. If your blood sugar if out of whack it might be causing your mood to change and stress to rise. Remember to eat healthy and all your meals throughout the day.
  9. Listen to music: Again, another gimme. However, I’d like to take it up a notch by saying you should listen to video game music. Don’t pick the games that evoke fear or dread . . . think back to the early NES games that evoke nostalgia and happiness. The soundtracks for those games were developed to keep the gamers focused and not be too distracting.
  10. Set boundaries: Turn off your work phone or laptop as soon as it hits time to clock out. Don’t give them a chance to contact you unless it’s a dire emergency. Creating these boundaries will ensure no stress from work bleeds over to your personal life.

Stress can impact us all in different ways, however, I think the majority of us can say we don’t want to become more unhealthy or stupid. Take some time out of your life to evaluate your stress levels and how you can get them down. Your brain and body will thank you. For further viewing, here’s a great TEDx talk by Thijs Launspach that explains how stress is killing us:

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