Do me a favor. Take a second to look to your left and your right. Go ahead- it won’t hurt you. Those people who are (or are not) around you, including yourself, are all very likely to be one thing: Stressed.
Stress is the unfortunate baggage of being a modern human. We exist in a sea of overstimulation, snooze buttons, classes, aggressive bosses, bad relationships, death, and worst of all (In the words of Moose) “everything“. Stressors can be real or imaginary, positive or negative, and large or small (Gazzaniga). they exist along a string of emotions, reactions, and environments that make it a much larger blob of existence than we may care to admit.
I want to discuss stress because of the lesser known fact that stress has significant health effects. Namely that when you are stressed your body increases the amount of cortisol in your bloodstream, the main result of an adrenaline rush. You may know that Adrenaline rushes elicit heightened awareness, pupil dilation, and more energy output.
What’s so bad about being more aware? Well It can have massive problems for neural cells. Adult humans do not actively create Neural Cells at the same rate as children do. In fact adults barely seem to create any. So when Neurons die we lose a lot more than we can gain. This is a problem because high levels of cortisol are toxic neurons, flooding the brain with rapid activity at a cost: neural burnout. Think light bulbs with too much electricity put into them, but then make those light bulbs circuits in a computer, and make that computer your brain. Boom, there goes a few hundred memories (sort of- the cells that die are new cells). In fact high cortisol levels can cause neurons to avoid forming new connections, and can even reduce the size of your brain (Bernstein). This means that stress disrupts working memory and long-term memory. Highly stressed individuals have difficulty recalling life events and forming memories of them.