Toxins that affect learning and memory
No matter your age, chronic stress can be toxic. It can paralyze us, affect our relationships with others, and limit our ability to focus. With time, it destroys our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health. With such a destructive effect, chronic stress assaults the minds of children, youth, and adult alike, preventing correct development and connectivity skills.
Even at an early age, stress affects impulse control and the ability to distinguish between positive thoughts and unhealthy or irrational thoughts.
Chronic stress in childhood may develop from different socio-economic challenges. These include problems in the family, divorce, death of a relative, too much control and overprotection from parents to children, inattentive parents or any factor at home that creates anxiety conditions.
When chronic stress is reduced and changes take place at home child learning and development improves, and the possibility of youth succeeding throughout their life increases.
Stress hormones, in small amounts, shape development of neural circuits in the brain and influence and activate genes in the neurons which initiate molecular reactions that strengthen connections in the neocortex and hippocampus sections of the brain. Additionally, they also help retain and retrieve information, inhibit impulses, and help us to avoid harmful actions/activities towards others and ourselves.
Executive function in the brain is critical for reasoning, problem solving, regulating emotions, and paying attention. These factors are essential for academic success.
The effects of stress on the brain depend on how long it has been present. Some stress puts you on alert, allowing us to better succeed in completing complex tasks. However, when stress exceeds a certain level, it begins to affect the development and learning of children.
In the brain, moderate amount of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, help maintain better activity in the executive function of the brain. Large quantities of these hormones, however, have a deteriorating effect, which affects the skills needed to learn. Thus, low and moderate amounts of stress (lasting 10-30 seconds) is actually beneficial to the brain and body, while prolonged stress has the complete opposite effect.
As time passes the neural circuits that control the levels of stress hormones will be motivated by experience to produce high or very low amount of these hormones in response to chronic stress or to maintain the optimum level of cortisol if stress is modulated.
Clinical and scientific studies have shown that young children with good executive functions of the brain and better behavior have optimal amounts of cortisol. On the contrary, those who have bad behavior and learning problems maintain high levels of cortisol in the blood, including children or young people who are more aggressive or have problems controlling themselves. These executive functions are very important for achievement and memory. They are crucial for learning mathematics and other areas of school, and learning different skills. Thus an optimal amount of cortisol is necessary for learning.
So what can be done? We have many blogs discussing chronic stress that can be found here. However, one topic that has yet to be discussed is the parent’s role in children’s stress levels. Next week we will cover this topic and some tips on what can be done to reduce stress.