How does stress affect the brain?

Stress is part of our daily lives, and we have all experienced it at one point or another.

At low levels, stress can provide motivation and help us to make crucial decisions but sometimes it can overwhelm us and prevent us from making progress.

In 2019, roughly 10.6 million people (aged 16 and above) in the UK reported having high anxiety. And a total of 17.9 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

Being more aware of how stress affects the brain and what we can do to mitigate these effects has a considerable impact on our personal and professional wellbeing.

Stress and executive function

Understanding stress involves unpicking how the brain works and how we process information.

There are various domains of the human brain that encompass the different processes we use to think and learn.

Executive Function is one of these domains. But really, it’s an umbrella term given to a variety of core functions that we perform during day-to-day tasks, including:

  • Reasoning
  • Planning
  • Problem-solving
  • Multi-tasking
  • Concentration and attention
  • Working memory

These are essential skills for our learning and working roles.

And when we think about stress, these are precisely the skills we need to effectively handle any demands we face.
Yet, research shows that these executive functions are directly interrupted and impaired by stress, causing things like:

  • Behavioural changes – becoming short-tempered, having a lack of confidence, being sensitive to constructive criticism, etc.
  • Loss of memory – forgetting to do a task or missing an important deadline.
  • An inability to make decisions – overthinking plans, second-guessing our abilities or feeling overwhelmed by too many options.
  • Attention problems – procrastination, starting new projects before finishing others, becoming distracted and losing track of the conversation in meetings and so on.

So this means that the more effectively we deal with stress, the less impact it will have on our overall wellbeing.

Cognassist specialises in assessing people’s needs based on Executive Function and other core domains of the brain.

We deliver support in the form of personalised learning strategies as well as access to funding for certain types of learners in further, adult and higher education.

We provide vital coping strategies for learners with identified learning needs and help them to overcome any stress they may experience during their programme.

Our learning library, with over 500 strategies, is personalised to different learner’s needs and provides them with the skills to cope with the demands of working life and more.

If you want to learn more about positive ways to tackle stress, click here.