STRESS. WE ALL FEEL IT. WE KNOW IT’S AFFECTING US, BUT DO WE TRULY KNOW HOW MUCH? CONSIDER THIS: WE KNOW THAT STRESS CREATES TENSION IN OUR BODIES, AFFECTS OUR MOOD AND EVEN OUR SLEEP.
What few people are aware of is that although some stress can be important for survival, unnecessary and constant stress that is not managed well can adversely impact our brains over time. Research has even shown that chronic stress actually accelerates brain aging.
Many professions, especially high-risk professions like police officers, firefighters and first responders, experience extreme stress that often leads to higher rates of depression, anger and burnout, and can impact life-or-death decisions made on the job. However, chronic stress and burnout is not limited to those professions.
The good news: We all have within us the tools needed to manage our physiological response to stress. We also now know through research that our brains can be repaired and renewed. Just like our hearts, we have the potential to reverse negative impacts on our brain.
At the Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute, we are home to scientists who develop and deliver evidence-based tools that are utilized to help mitigate the negative effects of stress. Numerous North Texas residents walk through our doors every day to take part in our sessions and trainings. In fact, hundreds of city of Dallas police officers have participated and continue to participate in our mindfulness and heart rate variability trainings, both of which teach techniques to quiet the brain and enhance well-being, quality of life and cognitive performance.
Breathing is at the foundation that underlies all the programs and methods we teach. This includes slow, rhythmic, deep breathing to calm the nervous system; mindfulness practices rooted in formal meditation; and to heart rate variability training designed to sync the mind, body and emotions. When we practice these sorts of things, we are in effect training our brains to form healthier and stronger neural pathways that we can access when the inevitable demon of stress comes calling.
While we all suffer from some degree of stress, research has shown that when we choose brain-healthy ways to manage it, we can improve our work performance, our home lives, our overall well-being — and, most important, our brain’s performance over time.
Dianna Purvis Jaffin is senior director of strategy and programs for the Brain Performance Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Jenny Wright Howland oversees resilience and performance solutions for the Brain Performance Institute and is a licensed clinical psychologist, first responder and correctional officer.
They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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Published on DALLASNEWS April 2019