According to new research from the University of Georgia’s Youth Development Institute, stress may be beneficial to brain function. The findings were published in the journal Neuropsychologia. According to the study, low to moderate amounts of stress boost working memory, which is the short-term knowledge individuals need to execute everyday activities such as remembering someone’s phone number or memorising directions to a certain location.
There is, however, one limitation, according to the researchers. The findings apply only to mild to moderate stress. When your stress levels rise over moderate and become consistent, the stress becomes poisonous. “The bad outcomes of stress are pretty clear and not new,” said Assaf Oshri, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Consistently high amounts of stress can alter the anatomy of the brain. It causes white matter to grow at the cost of grey matter, which is involved in muscular control, decision-making, self-control, emotional regulation, and other functions. Chronic stress can also make people more prone to a wide range of ailments, from nausea and migraine headaches to high blood pressure and heart disease.
“But there’s less information about the effects of more limited stress,” Oshri said. “Our findings show that low to moderate levels of perceived stress were associated with elevated working memory neural activation, resulting in better mental performance.”
Oshri and his colleagues previously established that low to moderate stress levels might help people build resilience and minimise their chances of acquiring mental health issues including depression and antisocial behaviour. This study also found that brief episodes of stress can assist people learn how to survive with challenging situations in the future.
The current study expands on prior work by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to illustrate how low to moderate stress can help the areas of the brain that govern working memory do their job more successfully.
People may manage with stress in healthy ways with the aid of support networks, friends, and family.
The researchers examined MRI images from the Human Connectome Project of over 1,000 persons of various races and ethnicities. The Human Connectome Project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, attempts to provide light on how the human brain works.
The findings revealed that people who reported low to moderate stress levels had greater activity in areas of the brain associated with working memory. Participants who reported chronically high levels of stress exhibited a decrease in those regions. Participants were asked how frequently they encountered various thoughts or sensations in order to determine perceived stress levels.
For example, “how frequently in the previous month have you been unhappy because of something unexpected that happened?” and “how frequently in the recent month have you realised that you couldn’t keep up with everything that you had to do?” This scale has been shown to be an effective measure in a number of different international research.
The researchers also examined the participants’ social networks using a variety of measures, such as how individuals felt about their own ability to deal with unexpected events, how satisfied they were that their lives mattered and were meaningful, and the availability of friend-based support in their social networks.
To assess working memory, participants were given four different types of photographs of items like tools and people’s faces and then asked to recall if they were the same photos they had seen before. The researchers then assessed neural activity in different areas of the brain by analysing MRIs of the subjects’ brains while they performed the tasks.
Unsurprisingly, those who reported having greater support from their relatives and friends tended to be better able to manage with low to moderate stress levels.
“You need the correct resources to be empowered by difficulty and stress,” stated Oshri. “Exposure to adversity can be beneficial for certain people. Others, however, may not. ” If you have a supportive community or family, you may be able to withstand greater stress.”