The Effects
of Stress on the Brain

as technical term first appeared in the life science community in 1926 when
Walter B. Cannon described it as a set of “external factors disrupting
homeostasis of a living organism” (Persson & Zakrisson,
2016, p. 149). Since
then, the concept of stress has rapidly developed and is the cause of many psychological
and physical problems (Lupien & Lepage, 2001; Persson &
Zakrisson, 2016). Stress is an inevitable part of life and according to Bourne (2011),

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living in Western society are experiencing more stress than ever before. We have all experienced stress at some point in our lives, but in
extreme circumstances, stress leads to “numerous psychopathologies in humans,
including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression,
schizophrenia, and drug use relapse” (Kim, Pellman & Kim, 2015, p. 411).

Acute vs. Chronic Stress

            Persson and Zakrisson (2016) discuss the difference
between acute and chronic stress. During an acute stress response, the
sympathetic nervous system (SNS), or the adaptive system, is designed to
protect the body during a perceived threat. The SNS activates the “fight or
flight” response, in which the body decides between either
fleeing a threatening life event or fighting it. The SNS also signals the
adrenal glands to release hormones (adrenalin and cortisol) during the stress
response. In this sense, the SNS stress response is critical for survival. The
problem arises when the SNS is stimulated too often (i.e. chronic or prolonged
stress). Individuals who constantly perceive danger in their environments are
in a constant state of alertness, which can cause harmful effects to our body.

Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis and Stress

            In response to stress, the corticotropin
releasing factor (CRF) is released from the hypothalamus, where it binds
to receptors at the pituitary gland and increases the release of