Impactful Outcomes of Stress Essay Example

  • Category: Education, Learning,
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  • Published: 22 August 2020
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The brain is the most multiplex organ in the human body. It is responsible for every thought, action, emotion, memory, and feeling. All of these lobes are working together to send hormones throughout the body. As this happens, a special process known as learning occurs. Learning is a prime factor for flourishing the brain of a student.

Proper and sophisticated brain functions lead to new perspectives and discoveries. While frequent brain activity enhances one’s skills, these effects can also prove to be damaging if managed incorrectly as prolonged exposure and usage of significant cognitive abilities in the brain can eventually lead to damage resulting from chronic stress. If similar damage continues at the hands of chronic stress, one may find it difficult to perform normally and unravel new thoughts. Without these abilities, students might find skill acquisition more difficult due to the fact that stress on the brain has unfavorable effects that can affect brain size, its structure, and how it functions. 

Learning as a Cause of Stress

Learning is one of the most significant parts of a student’s education. However, chronic stress can lead to severe damages in key functions of normal life, such as memory and learning. These severe outcomes are the result of stress on the frontal lobe, specifically the front region known as the cortex, as stress piles up on the brain causing it to dwindle in size. The prefrontal cortex itself is the most sophisticated region in the brain as it performs various cognitive abilities.

The types of cognitive abilities could include planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behaviour (“Prefrontal Cortex.”). 1. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social control (“Prefrontal Cortex.”). However, the prefrontal cortex is very sensitive to the effects of stress.

With the impact of stress on the prefrontal cortex, critical thinking skills and comprehension become affected. These component abilities may alter a student’s way of thinking, in ways that it may affect higher-order thinking skills, which students rely upon to perform well in school, some examples could include during an exam or presentation, resulting in a failure to meet certain circumstances. Additionally, since these skills have been swayed, this causes for the prefrontal cortex to become sensitive that even minuscule amounts of stress can cause the loss of cognitive abilities.

Also, prolonged stress exposure causes change in size. These power points allow for one to use their brain to the full potential. Without these key abilities, it makes it remarkably difficult for a student, or anyone, to receive a quality education and execute these abilities to the fullest. If a student were to have a pile of work, chronic stress could overdo the brain, which is not healthy for a young student. 2.) These damaging effects could cause stress to be seen as a killer, at least for brain cells. Studies show that “chronically reduced levels of neurotrophins such as BDNF following early life stress would be expected to reduce survival of newly born cells and potentially of established neurons” (Ali, Salzberg, French, and Jones).

As new information is learned, neurons (brain cells) are generated to store this information. However, stress interrupts the production of neurons and also affects the speed of connections between neurons. Stress makes neurons vulnerable to damage, moreover the brain. With these effects, damage to the brain is prevalent in a student’s early life.

Their neurons are being depleted, without them even knowing, and as a result stress becomes a counterpart of their learning, damage is done to the brain. Stress not only has the capability of harming neurons, but also includes one major effect that “chronic stress has a shrinking effect on the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning” (Bernstein). With the work overload of young students, stress is majorly visible.

Stress can impair communication between cells in the memory and learning region. Memory and learning take place at synapses, which are junctures through which neurons communicate. The effects of stress limit the ability of synapses to gather and cache memories. Without the communication of neurons, memory and learning become rather difficult. As a result, the accumulation of these stressors can cause negative impacts on the lives of students, which indefinitely exacerbate their education. 

Taking In New Information

Due to the change in the size of the amygdala, the ability to take in new information is restricted. Exposure to chronic stress causes change in the size of the amygdala, an area of the brain modulates emotions and memory. Exposure to stress, specifically, is able to increase the release of amygdala neurotransmitters. This structure manages stress response by communicating with other brain structures. The amygdala is distinctively connected with other areas that regulate emotional and stress-related behavior.

The amygdala has afferent and efferent connections, the importance of approaching signals in regulating emotion-related behavior, and the functional and anatomical outcomes of its patterns, the understanding of the amygdala is unmatched (Ressler). Along with the enlargement of the amygdala, the brain becomes more receptive to stress. Research shows “while cortisol hampers the activity of the hippocampus, it increases the size and activity of the amygdala, the brain’s main center for emotional responses and motivation” (Gregoire).

The stress hormone, cortisol, is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. However, prolonged stress causes cortisol levels to increase, and if this were to be continuous, the hormone can hurt more than it helps; the amygdala accordingly responds to cortisol, and releases its own hormones to maintain the body’s homeostasis. Along with hormones, the amygdala contributes to emotional processing. One of the numerous emotions, the amygdala is mainly responsible for fear processing, a key emotion. Since stress causes the activity rate of the amygdala to increase, emotional reactions heighten.

Increased activity of the amygdala causes the brain to be “in a state of reacting to perceived threat, which can have the effect of restricting our ability to take in new information” (Gregoire). As the ability of the amygdala increases, the restriction of the ability to take in new information, this can be seen as an inverse relationship. The enlargement of the amygdala causes a wave of different activities to occur, which in turn results in limited brain function as a result of stress. Essentially, these effects are only taking place because of the enlargement of the amygdala.

While these effects on the amygdala may be damaging to people of all ages, the effect it has on students is most prominently seen in today’s society. Prolonged stress could result from numerous things, such as an overload of schoolwork, family difficulties, or other issues. Students who experience this are being restricted to take in new information. This restriction hinders students critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Limiting these skills prevents students from having the opportunity to learn new concepts and ideas, therefore preventing students from progressing forwards in comprehension and application. Without these skills, it makes it hard for students to gain understanding. Stress is able to lead to impaired cognitive functions. Without these basic cognitive functions, the skills of students are impeded, and learning becomes much more difficult. 

Cortisol

To further elaborate on the topic of cortisol, in addition to restoring balance to the body after a stressful event, cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, amplify the use of glucose in the brain, and increase the accessibility of substances that repair tissues (“Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk”). All of these effects are positive and beneficial to both the body and the brain, however, an overproduction of this hormone may lead to detrimental issues.

Chronic stress and an increase in cortisol, leads to a decrease in the number of dendritic branches and the number of neurons as well as structural changes in synaptic terminals (Yaribeygi, Panahi, Sahraei, Johnston, and Sahebkar). Synaptic terminals are responsible for communication throughout the brain with the assistance of neurotransmitters. With the synaptic terminals being affected, communication within the brain declines.

To say, “chronically high cortisol levels can cause gastric ulcers, thinning of the bones, and possibly even brain damage” (Bremner). As levels of cortisol heighten, damage to the brain only intensifies, and the ability to prevent cortisol release weakens even more. Scientists have found that prolonged exposure to cortisol reduces the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other through shrinking brain cell extensions called dendrites, that collect messages from other cells.

As a result, miscommunication within the brain may generate cognitive disabilities such as impaired speech, abnormal memory, drowsiness, and imbalancement. With this in mind, children may be at the pinnacle of this disadvantage as their brains are especially continuing development during this time. As children try to focus in class, these cognitive disabilities may come in the most unwanted times, which in turn would result in a lack of knowledge gained in class.

Additionally, this lack of knowledge gained in class would also contribute to poor brain function in the future, essentially leading to a lifetime of issues. Another effect of elevated levels of stress hormones include the reduction of the production of new neurons to replace aged, dying cells in the brain. This is alarming because studies by researchers have shown that elevated cortisol levels interfere with memory and learning. Moreover, the interference itself is caused by cells exponentially decreasing over time, and as a result cause significant damage relating to memory and simple thinking.

To make matters worse, students solely rely upon memory and learning skills for a basic education. However, if these two skills are negatively affected, a student may not be able to focus or study appropriately for school. Additionally, upraised levels of cortisol “create so much activation that it’s difficult to focus” (Greenberg 164). The ability to focus becomes extremely hard at the hands of stress. Certain hormones released as an outcome of stress disrupt basic thought patterns, as well as reactions and responses. As a result of the release of these hormones, brain function in class takes a severe toll on students ability to pay attention.

With the disruption going on in the mind, students fail to focus on the task at hand and instead miss important information that may appear on exams, which could contribute to poor scores and may discourage certain students from achieving their goals. Along with the ability of focus, receptors pertaining to memory get inflicted as well. As levels of stress increases, cortisol hormones affix themselves to glucocorticoid receptors, which interferes with memory. This causes extreme levels of stress, as well as forgetfulness. Forgetfulness is a trait seen in all, but if it were to be intensified, then these impacts could ultimately lead to short-term or long-term memory loss.

With the many burdens of work on students, stress levels are bound to increase. The stress prevents students from applying information that they have learned as well as different concepts and methods that can be applicable in the future. With memory and learning impaired, the education of students is inadequate. These results show what kind of memory an intelligent organism has to have. Memory must be capable of storing mental representations of knowledge acquired and learned through experience. In conjunction with multiple variables that stress contributes to its potential rise, students find themselves in the toughest positions. 

How Stress Impacts Neurogenesis

The human brain consists of billions of neurons interconnected with each other, performing individual tasks. Yet, stress impacts the process of neurogenesis in negative means. Neurogenesis is the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain. The outstanding diversity of neurons in the brain results from regulated neurogenesis (“What is Neurogenesis”). Neurogenesis has been linked to hippocampal function, including memory and learning, anxiety management and feedback of stress response. Stress is capable of altering the production and survival of new neurons.

Stress exerts a thorough effect on neurogenesis, leading to a rapid and prolonged decrease in the rate of cell proliferation in the hippocampus (Levone, Cryan, O’Leary). Glucocorticoids, as well as other neurochemicals, have been applied in stress-related impairment of neurogenesis. Glucocorticoids along with amino acids “are both involved in stress-induced suppression of neurogenesis” (McEwen, Bowles, Gray, Hill, Hunter, Karatsoreos, and Nasca). With the suppression of neurogenesis caused by stress, the production of neurons slow down and communication within the brain lessens.

The impairment of neurogenesis can cause devastating effects. Along with weakened communication within the brain, the rate at which neurons are replenished become sluggish. Along with brain cell death, the mass of the brain lessens. Outcomes of this may lead to cognitive irregularities, which can be seen in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. With the process of neurogenesis being harmed, the hippocampal structure and functions are altered as well. Without the assistance of neurogenesis, new neurons are not produced to store memory, which can be harmful to a student’s brain and education.

Scientists have “explored the disruptive effects of stress on hippocampal-dependent declarative memory processes” (Sapolsky). Neurons store memories, which is significant in the childhood of a student. Stress negatively affects neurogenesis through the means of disruption on the hippocampus, which invariably contributes to a weakened ability for students to store important information. With memory being diminished, learning becomes more difficult. Students are not able to use critical thinking skills, which hold the possibility of having favorable effects on aspects of everyday life.

Critical thinking skills help students understand concepts that may be seen as difficult to understand. The cognitive abilities of students are hindered, and the education received is not as strong. Neurogenesis is salient in the early stages of life, however, if this process averts, then memory and learning are compromised. 

Factors of Learning

The senses of the brain are key factors in students’ learning, such as attention. The divulsion of stress is able to alter the amount of norepinephrine levels, which sharpens the senses, focuses attention, and essentially assists the senses. Norepinephrine is an organic chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. The role of norepinephrine is to mobilize the brain and body for action through communication. Norepinephrine focuses the senses by activating the neurons that are responsible for gathering information from the senses so that the brain can be more vigilant (Bremner).

This allows for attention and focus senses to heighten. However, stress has the possibility of increasing the levels of norepinephrine, which can potentially be harmful. With an overload of work, some people get so stressed out that “they release too much norepinephrine in their brains” (Bremner). The over release of this hormone can result in harm to the brain. Although increased levels of norepinephrine seem helpful, too much is harmful. This is able to cause a distinctive set of symptoms, including many relating to the brain. The communication within the brain is impaired and this affects other neurons. Loss of attention and memory are caused by these effects, which are part of the cognitive abilities.

Now, with these effects coming into the hand of a student, this can hold the potential of harming education. These numerous effects can “lead to both memory problems and maintenance of abnormal fear responses” (Bremner). With the main cognitive ability of memory being affected, the ability of a student to retain vital information hinders. Along with memory, thinking skills are also impacted, this can worsen decision-making skills as well as evaluation skills.

A high level of stress reduces students’ ability to concentrate on their studies (Stupart). Coincidentally, it makes it harder for students to memorize information (Stupart). The attention of students gets affected by the increased level of this hormone. Attention, as well as focus spans, are lessened, and this can have impacts on the education of students. Poor focus and attention could limit students’ ability to think critically at peak levels. All of these factors can result in a poor performance in school, the inability to complete tasks, and miscommunication with information. With a young brain being affected in these detrimental ways, education and learning will not be as strong. Without memory, it makes life more difficult for students in regards to learning suitably. 

Hippocampus

Stress hinders hippocampal function, which is mainly responsible for long-term memory. The hippocampus is a small organ located within the brain’s temporal lobe (Mandal). The hippocampus is associated with memory, more so long-term memory (Mandal). Long-term memories are stored throughout the brain in groups of neurons that are fired together in the same pattern that creates an experience, and each component of the memory is stored in the area that initiated it (Urbansky).

This neural act is the heart of learning. Unmanageable stress has been seen to influence the hippocampus in various methods. Stress impairs various hippocampal memory functions. Studies show that stress alters synaptic plasticity and firing properties of hippocampal neurons. Structurally, stress subdues neuron proliferation and reduces the size of the hippocampus. Multiple stress hormones affect “brain structures such as the hippocampus (which influences the creation of memories from current experience)” (Thompson and Haskins).

During stress, the brain needs to focus on sensory stimuli, so hippocampal functions are altered. The hippocampus is vulnerable to stress, because of the negative and damaging effects of cortisol (Kim, Pellman, and Kim). There are numerous cortisol receptors surrounding the hippocampus, which is why stress can heavily impede the brain (McEwen, Bowles, Gray, Hill, Hunter, Karatsoreos, and Nasca). Cortisol affects the rate at which neurons are produced or depleted from the hippocampus (Harvard Health Publishing). Since the neurons are being harmed in the hippocampus, the hippocampus loses its neurons and reduces in size.

The hippocampus is less functional at times like these. High levels of cortisol cause the function and flow of information into the hippocampus to decelerate. Stress causes reduced nerve branching and development and causes nerve cell death in the hippocampus (McEwen, Bowles, Gray, Hill, Hunter, Karatsoreos, and Nasca). This restricts the ability to take in new information. With students having this type of negative effect on their brain, learning becomes extremely difficult.

As well as these effects taking place at a young age in which the brain is yet to develop. Stress has the ability to harm the hippocampus, “with deficits in hippocampal-based learning and memory” (Bremner). Stress affects both students’ physical and mental functioning (Stupart). Memory is vital to students’ academic success, and forgetfulness is one of the results of stress (Stupart). The memory of students is affected by stress.

Since the hippocampus is the main powerhouse for memories, these effects can be long-term. With the loss of memory, the ability to take in new information is restricted. Students are hindered from the material being taught in school. These two main cognitive abilities are confined, and this leads to students being unable to recall the necessary and important information to apply in school. Stress has the capability to limit the abilities of memory and learning, which can affect the education a student is receiving. 

Conclusion

In some conditions, young people spend most of their time working on studies. However, the overload of work given to students generates stress. Stressors have a major influence upon health, the long-term effects of stress can damage health. Prolonged stress has the capability to inflict harm on the brain, including ways of size, structure, and functions.

Cognitive abilities of young individuals are restricted and this results in improper education. Without conventional education, students are not able to receive the critical skills necessary for their life. Alongside certain abilities being hindered, the brain composition is also altered. Certain chemicals act out of line, resulting in miscommunication within the brain. Memory and learning are the main abilities that get modified. Upon these effects, the brains of the students get impeded as well as their education. 

Works Cited

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Greenberg, Melanie. The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness & Neuroplasticity. ReadHowYouWant, 2018. Accessed 30 March, 2019.

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Thompson, Ross A., and Ron Haskins. “Stress and Child Development.” The Future of Children, vol. 24, no. 1, 2014, pp. 41–59., doi:10.1353/foc.2014.0004. Accessed 30 March, 2019. 

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