This survival response is helpful and necessary when we encounter a real threat, but in excess, can cause long-term damage to our bodies. The effects of chronic stress have been linked to a weakened immune system, weight gain, and heart disease, among other issues.
But new research is finding a possible correlation between prolonged stress and anxiety, and structural degeneration of the hippocampus and impaired functioning of the prefrontal cortex. This means that the wear and tear caused to the brain by chronic stress or anxiety could be tied to an increased risk of depression and dementia.
The good news is that some of the damage incurred from chronic stress and anxiety is “not completely irreversible,” according to some experts. It was long believed that once a brain lost volume, it was gone forever, but we now know that’s not entirely true. Our brains are plastic, meaning they’re capable of change. This plasticity allows our brains some degree of regrowth and regeneration.
The best way, however, to protect your brain and body from the effects of chronic stress and anxiety is to find a way to manage it before it begins to affect your health. Luckily, there are many different treatment options for these conditions.