Scientists have found our stress button
We know that stress is bad for us. Now, scientists have discovered exactly what chronic stress does to our brains and the real-life impacts.
Being chronically stressed can stop us from feeling pleasure and lead to depression, the study suggests.
It can also decimate our appetite, libido and willingness to talk to our mates.
This is all because one group of neurons become hyperactive when under constant stress, according to the research.
Found in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus, these neurons are responsible for things like libido, sleep and hunger.
Stress puts pressure on them, making us more likely to shut ourselves off from friends and lose interest in sex.
The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, could help scientists develop better treatments for stress and depression.
It also found that stress makes us tense our muscles, and can mean we are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. It also rids our gut of good bacteria that helps us digest food.
Tips for managing chronic stress
Here are some simple, evidence-based tips for chilling out.
Take a break and go outside
Make sure you’re sleeping enough
Watch your blood sugar
See your GP
For this study, the researchers looked at the brains of mice under chronic stress.
In their case, this was being restrained and living in wet, tilted cages isolated from other mice.
The mice stopped showing interest in sugar water, which they usually love, and male mice were less interested in sniffing the urines of females while they were in heat.
When scientists at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University looked at the hypothalamus they found a group of neurons called POMC.
When these neutrons were activated, they led to behavioural problems like anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure) and behavioural despair (essentially depression).
When scientists reduced the activity in the neurons these symptoms were eased. Stress also affects how these neurons deal with potassium.
Previous studies have found that even small dips in potassium can cause chronic anxiety. Getting these pathways working again could help treat stress, the researchers think.
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Scientists have discovered exactly what chronic stress does to our brains.