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4 ways stress damages the brain.

Stress has far more damaging effects on the brain than previously believed, with very real effects on our self-confidence, our creativity and our behaviour. There is a cure, however.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed your creativity seems blocked, you don’t feel as self-confident, you can’t control your emotions and your actions become more impulsive? Yes? Good, you have a normal brain.

The human brain consists out of 2 major parts. The back of the brain, called the impulsive or “animal brain”, is responsible for all the primitive actions, like sensory perceptions, muscle movement etc. This part is very similar to the brains of animals. The front part of our brains, however, is what makes uniquely human. This part is called the prefrontal cortex, and we might as well call it the CEO of the brain. This is where the sense of self, impulse control and higher planning takes place. Animals don’t have this part, which is why you will never see a cow packing a suitcase and planning a holiday.

Under stressful situations, this very frontal part of the brain shuts down. It literally stops working. And there’s a very good reason for this. It’s designed like this for our survival.

brain normalTo explain this let’s look at the flow of information in the brain under normal circumstances, for example when we react to something we see. The information goes from our eyes to the visual cortex in the back of our brains. Then it is sent to the prefrontal cortex, the CEO, for evaluation, which makes a decision on how to react. It then sends this decision to the motor cortex which controls our muscles.

 

brain stressUnder stress this normal flow is interrupted. The CEO is bypassed and the information goes directly from the sensory system to the motor cortex, and that’s how it should be. If we’re crossing the street and we see a car coming at us, we don’t want to think about it and analyze the situation. No, we want to jump out of the way, impulsively. If we would have first thought about it, it might be too late.

So the shutting down of the prefrontal cortex under stress is designed for our survival in extreme circumstances, but it wasn’t designed for the chronic stress situations most humans experience all too often today.

The more the brain is under chronic stress, the more the prefrontal cortex is permanently shut down, and it actually becomes damaged.

This can be clearly visualized today through modern brain imaging technologies, such as SPECT brain scans which measure the blood flow in the brain.

normal-violent brainIt was found that highly stressed people, who displaying a strong tendency for violent behavior have literal functional “holes” in their prefrontal cortex. (shown here from bottom view). These are areas where no more blood flow is recorded, where the brain is permanently shut down.

 

We put violent people to prison to punish them for their bad choices, but now it’s becoming more and more clear that some people might not have much of a choice. Children who grew up in highly stressful, violent circumstances, might have so much damage to their frontal brains that the part of our brains that is responsible for judgment, impulse control and analyzing the long term consequences of their actions is no longer working at the time when it’s most needed.

Alcohol, drugs and nicotine will enforce this effect, damaging the frontal part of the brain even more.

Likewise we all experience the effect of stress on the brain, though in lesser degrees. We lose control over our emotions, get angry more quickly (usually creating even more stress) we can’t think clearly and act more impulsively. This affects everything: our relationships, our careers, our creativity, our happiness and our health.

Research shows Transcending can reverse the damaging effects of stress on the brain.

Throughout this site you can discover how transcending has an exact opposite effect on the body as stress. Research has shown that it has a similar opposite effect on the brain, allowing the brain to heal from stressful experiences.

Whereas during stress the prefrontal cortex shuts down, brain scans have shown that during transcending, the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex actually increases, so that it gets reactivated.

FMRI bloodflow to brain

This fMRI scan actaully shows a double effect of decrease of stress: Bloodflow to the prefrontal cortex increases, and bloodflow to the amygdala and limbic system in the brain, which is usually high during stress, (and chronically high with people suffering from post traumatic stress disorders) decreases.

The effect of this is usually noticeable immediately, even within a few days after learning TM. People feel more themselves (prefrontal cortex is responsible for sense of self, see also “being yourself”), they manage to remain calm during stressful situations, keep their emotions more balanced and are able to focus better and think more clearly. Often these effects can be so dramatic that they sound almost too good to be true, but learning how the brain works can give us more insight why they are in fact true.

Stress has far more damaging effects on the brain than previously believed, with very real effects on our self-confidence, our creativity and our behaviour. There is a cure, however.

Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed your creativity seems blocked, you don’t feel as self-confident, you can’t control your emotions and your actions become more impulsive? Yes? Good, you have a normal brain.

The human brain consists out of 2 major parts. The back of the brain, called the impulsive or “animal brain”, is responsible for all the primitive actions, like sensory perceptions, muscle movement etc. This part is very similar to the brains of animals. The front part of our brains, however, is what makes uniquely human. This part is called the prefrontal cortex, and we might as well call it the CEO of the brain. This is where the sense of self, impulse control and higher planning takes place. Animals don’t have this part, which is why you will never see a cow packing a suitcase and planning a holiday.

Under stressful situations, this very frontal part of the brain shuts down. It literally stops working. And there’s a very good reason for this. It’s designed like this for our survival.

brain normalTo explain this let’s look at the flow of information in the brain under normal circumstances, for example when we react to something we see. The information goes from our eyes to the visual cortex in the back of our brains. Then it is sent to the prefrontal cortex, the CEO, for evaluation, which makes a decision on how to react. It then sends this decision to the motor cortex which controls our muscles.

 

brain stressUnder stress this normal flow is interrupted. The CEO is bypassed and the information goes directly from the sensory system to the motor cortex, and that’s how it should be. If we’re crossing the street and we see a car coming at us, we don’t want to think about it and analyze the situation. No, we want to jump out of the way, impulsively. If we would have first thought about it, it might be too late.

So the shutting down of the prefrontal cortex under stress is designed for our survival in extreme circumstances, but it wasn’t designed for the chronic stress situations most humans experience all too often today.

The more the brain is under chronic stress, the more the prefrontal cortex is permanently shut down, and it actually becomes damaged.

This can be clearly visualized today through modern brain imaging technologies, such as SPECT brain scans which measure the blood flow in the brain.

normal-violent brainIt was found that highly stressed people, who displaying a strong tendency for violent behavior have literal functional “holes” in their prefrontal cortex. (shown here from bottom view). These are areas where no more blood flow is recorded, where the brain is permanently shut down.

 

We put violent people to prison to punish them for their bad choices, but now it’s becoming more and more clear that some people might not have much of a choice. Children who grew up in highly stressful, violent circumstances, might have so much damage to their frontal brains that the part of our brains that is responsible for judgment, impulse control and analyzing the long term consequences of their actions is no longer working at the time when it’s most needed.

Alcohol, drugs and nicotine will enforce this effect, damaging the frontal part of the brain even more.

Likewise we all experience the effect of stress on the brain, though in lesser degrees. We lose control over our emotions, get angry more quickly (usually creating even more stress) we can’t think clearly and act more impulsively. This affects everything: our relationships, our careers, our creativity, our happiness and our health.

Research shows Transcending can reverse the damaging effects of stress on the brain.

Throughout this site you can discover how transcending has an exact opposite effect on the body as stress. Research has shown that it has a similar opposite effect on the brain, allowing the brain to heal from stressful experiences.

Whereas during stress the prefrontal cortex shuts down, brain scans have shown that during transcending, the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex actually increases, so that it gets reactivated.

FMRI bloodflow to brain

This fMRI scan actaully shows a double effect of decrease of stress: Bloodflow to the prefrontal cortex increases, and bloodflow to the amygdala and limbic system in the brain, which is usually high during stress, (and chronically high with people suffering from post traumatic stress disorders) decreases.

The effect of this is usually noticeable immediately, even within a few days after learning TM. People feel more themselves (prefrontal cortex is responsible for sense of self, see also “being yourself”), they manage to remain calm during stressful situations, keep their emotions more balanced and are able to focus better and think more clearly. Often these effects can be so dramatic that they sound almost too good to be true, but learning how the brain works can give us more insight why they are in fact true.

What the Media is saying about TM

What people are saying

“Transcendental Meditation has opened up a new world of good health and well-being for me. I am so much more in control of my life and realise that there is something I can do to reduce my stress levels and feel more relaxed. It is such a blessing — I am grateful to have found it.”

Aisling Drury-Byrne, Royal Irish Academy of Music, Musician & Teacher


“The best thing I ever did in my life was to learn TM as an architectural student in 1973. I have benefitted in a multitude of ways from it’s simple, easy practice. In the morning, when I sit down to practise TM, it’s as if I receive a mental bath. Having more energy and clarity as a result of my TM practice, I am able to give and receive more, not only in my professional life, but in my personal life also.”

Peter Mullins, Architect


“As a musician, I feel that it helps me to perform better and as a teacher, it allows me to approach the classroom in a relaxed state of mind which, I believe, in turn has a positive effect on my students. I would highly recommend TM to anyone who is looking for an easy and effective way to bring balance into all aspects of their lives.”

Rachel Robinson, Musician & Teacher


“I encourage all my patients to practice Transcendental Meditation. Experience Shows and research confirms, that it is the best vaccine against stress-related conditions. Regular practice keeps you inwardly settled despite being surrounded by chaos.”

Dr Donn Brennan (MRCGP), General Practitioner.


“Having practised TM and the TM Sidhi Programme for 27 years I find it hard to describe the magnitude of change it has brought to my life other than to say it has changed everything ; in a phrase perhaps it has made me a completely happy and enriched person enjoying all aspects of life.”

Derek Crampton, Businessman


Read more testimonials about TM


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