What impact does stress have on the growing brain?

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What impact does stress have on the growing brain?

In: Biology
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[According to Psychologist Daniela Kaufer,](https://www.verywellmind.com/surprising-ways-that-stress-affects-your-brain-2795040) when it comes to [stress](https://www.tuw.edu/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/), there are two kinds, broadly speaking. The first kind can be called “good stress”, which is the kind of stress you experience when you are completing a challenging task or getting through a workout. The second kind of stress is chronic stress, which is marked by a pattern of stress over a long period of time.

Chronic stress could be induced by a demanding job, growing up in a bad home environment, being in a toxic relationship, etc. Chronic stress puts a lot of strain on the brain, causing a host of problems. To understand these problems better, we first need to understand the structure of the brain.

The brain is made of neurons (cells that carry electrical signals) and cells supporting these neurons. Depending on the kind of cells supporting the neurons, we get what is known as “gray matter” and “white matter” in the brain. [“Gray matter”](https://www.technologynetworks.com/neuroscience/articles/gray-matter-vs-white-matter-322973) is responsible for functions such as attention, memory, thought, and emotional control. This contrasts with [“white matter,”](https://www.technologynetworks.com/neuroscience/articles/gray-matter-vs-white-matter-322973) which essentially acts as the wires connecting areas of gray matter in the brain together. White matter gets its name from the fatty white substance known as [myelin](https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002261.htm) that covers parts of the neuron, speeding up signals.

[Researchers at UC Berkeley](https://news.berkeley.edu/2014/02/11/chronic-stress-predisposes-brain-to-mental-illness/) found that chronic stress alters brain structure by increasing the production of myelin-producing cells while decreasing the production of new neurons. This imbalance of white and gray matter in the brain ends up [decreasing one’s abilities in memory, decision-making, and emotional control](https://www.verywellmind.com/surprising-ways-that-stress-affects-your-brain-2795040). While the effects of this imbalance are relevant to people of all ages, they are especially impactful to children with developing brains.

According to Mark Cloutier, executive director of San Francisco-based Center for Youth Wellness, [kids who have been exposed to a large amount of chronic stress have damaged prefrontal cortexes.](https://youthtoday.org/2016/05/teen-stress-and-the-growing-brain/#:~:text=Chronic%20exposure%20to%20stress%20can,based%20Center%20for%20Youth%20Wellness.) The [prefrontal cortex ](https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/prefrontal-cortex#:~:text=The%20prefrontal%20cortex%20is%20the%20association%20cortex%20of%20the%20frontal%20lobe.&text=The%20Orbitomedial%20cortex%20is%20involved,is%20involved%20in%20cognitive%20functions.)is mostly made up of gray matter, and acts as the executive control center of the brain (think like the CEO of the brain). When this area of the brain is damaged, [our ability to solve complex problems, think ahead, and control our emotions becomes inhibited](https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/2014/5/16/know-your-brain-prefrontal-cortex#:~:text=Patients%20with%20prefrontal%20cortex%20damage,and%20the%20inhibition%20of%20impulses.&text=Patients%20with%20prefrontal%20cortex%20damage%20can%20experience%20blunted%20emotional%20responses,their%20ability%20to%20make%20decisions.).

TLDR: Chronic stress during brain development stunts our abilities to solve complex problems, think ahead, and control emotions.

Heyo, training teacher here. This isn’t quite the full answer, but I think it’s an aspect. When your stressed, your brain produces a hormone that essentially shuts down your ability to learn. It’s why typically education workers advise avoiding cram studying (amongst other reasons).

Boil it down, if someone is stressed it’s gonna impact their learning, which can be problematic if the concept is foundational to an area of importance.

That’s how I think about it anyway.
(Also, sorry about the fuzziness of terminology, it’s been a little while since I did the course and it wasn’t a very good one at that.).

The first answer is pretty spot on. I did a research paper and I talked about healthy stress. There’s been studies that showed chronic stress causes heart issues, cancer, etc. Basically when growing up it’s good to have healthy stress such as a term paper being due, exam, interviews. However when someone has child hood trauma it triggers your body to be constantly stress. Your stress level will be stuck at a high level 24/7, now imagine that and then imagine when a healthy stress happens your stress level went from a “level 8” to a “level 10”. Compared to someone that grew up with a nice childhood their level went from a 0 to a 2. This is why some kids that grow up in an abusive home don’t do well on tests because their stress isn’t at a “gotta pass this test level” it went straight to a “I’m going to die” level.

I wrote this paper ten years ago so I hope I got it right lol it’s crazy how it physically alters your brain too!

Ps you can also imagine being chased by a bear you have the fight or flight response right? Now imagine that feeling 24/7 that’s how chronic stress affects people. So when something small happens it will have a big affect on them.

stress can definitely affect developing perceptions and interpretations which can lead to a negative outlook on the future and cause unwarranted anxieties.

A developing brain involves making connections based on new stimuli from the environment. Just like a drought would keep a tree from flourishing and making new branches, stress would keep a developing brain from making and strengthening new connections, or synapses.

Chronic stress also significantly impacts overall physical health and puts children at greater risk of all chronic health conditions. Imagine a car in neutral with the gas petal down non-stop. Stress wears on your body in a similar way. If you’re interested, check out the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES). 20 years of frightening research on the impact of chronic stress. Trauma is one of the most expensive things we are dealing with as a society by far!!

[Gabor Mate,](https://drgabormate.com/) a canadian physician, has suggested in several books that stress and trauma in younger children may lead to a poor emotional regulation and to problems later in life. Mate has notably [linked addictions to trauma in childhood](https://drgabormate.com/book/in-the-realm-of-hungry-ghosts/) (not every time, but it might be one of the factors).

In his book [When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection](https://drgabormate.com/book/when-the-body-says-no/), Mate builds a compelling argument linking stress to autoimmune diseases and certain forms of cancer.

If you want to read further, I highly recommend you check his books and podcasts. He’s a fascinating thinker and a very clear explainer.

Stress gets your level of cortisol high (stress hormone), short burst of this are useful for survival, learning to identify potential threats and so on. Chronic stress keep this hormone high, and it has detrimental effects. In the brain, it reduces the growth of new neurons in hipoccampus affecting memory, affects the prefrontal cortex (which control executive function) and affects negatively other neural pathways, which can lead to depression and anxiety.

In the growing brain, it’s basically the same, it can lead to mental health problems and affects learning.

When you’re growing, the brain is full of possibilities. It’s still making connections between different parts of the brain, strengthening (making faster) the connections that are used the most, and pruning away the ones that aren’t used and thus likely not necessary.

The brain is constantly trying to learn and adapt to its environment. If you’re exposed to lots of stress when you’re young, your brain will strengthen its connections that help it respond to that stress and weaken the ones that are less useful/used.

For example, if you’re raised by physically abusive parents, your brain will wire itself to quickly recognize angry faces, or even to err on the side of assuming neutral faces are angry. This is good in the abusive environment because it can help you stay safer: if you can tell dad is angry, then you’ll know to tiptoe around him and maybe avoid getting hurt. Other changes could be to have a low threshold for feeling fear or anxiety – again, things that help keep you safe in that stressful environment if they make you more cautious.

As you get older, your brain gets more set in its ways, and there’s less and less remodeling of its connections. That means that the stress responses wired when you’re young can be stuck there when you’re older.

If you change environments, that may mean that what was once helpful under stress – like thinking everyone is mad at you or feeling anxious all the time – is no longer helpful in a non-stressful environment. Instead, you may find it hard to make friends because you think people are mad at you when they’re not, or you could be anxious all the time when you’re actually safe, which can be hard on the body and the mind.

Hi, I’m studying Childhood Development. A lot of good answers here but I feel that its not quite answered LI5.

When a child is chronically stressed, They can revert to a fight or flight mode. Traumatised children can be in this mode for months or even years if they do not receive therapeutic parenting.

While in this mode, they will not feel safe enough to explore their relationships with others or the world around them. This stunts their psychological development until they feel safe in their environment and with the adults around them.

This can often be why we see traumatised children of 8 years old behaving like babies, reverting back to “goo-goo ga-ga” baby talk and behaviour when exposed to stress. They don’t know how to behave, that section of their development was completely missed because they were too stressed to learn basic behaviours.

If these critical building blocks of their development are not addressed then it can have permanent effects into adult life. Depression, lack of empathy, prone to violence. Not good.

The best way to combat these missing blocks is to parent them at their ‘Developmental age’. Traumatised grown boy regularly acting like a baby and having a tantrum? Give him cuddles and don’t judge them, they are trying to communicate that they are stressed and don’t know how to deal with their emotions. Like a baby.

Here are some fancy diagrams and fuller explanation of different stages of development. [https://www.verywellmind.com/erik-eriksons-stages-of-psychosocial-development-2795740](https://www.verywellmind.com/erik-eriksons-stages-of-psychosocial-development-2795740)

Stress is terrible on the brain and body at any age. I’m 59 and I’m losing my ability to spell.

You would have to answer, what type of stress first. Shearing stress or tensile stress. Tensile stress can be handled to a degree but shearing stress is catastrophic.