See Inside September / October 2011

Splintered by Stress: The Good and Bad of Psychological Pressure

Psychological pressure can make you more attentive, improving your memory and ability to learn. But too much stress can have the opposite effect

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A needling twinge in the torso or a tense interaction with a boss is all you need to get your nerves on edge. The bills are piling up and—of course—your spouse is on your case about them. You feel as if an extra weight is pressing down on your mind.

The all too familiar sensation of stress can preoccupy your thoughts, narrowing attention to the sphere of your concerns. But its effects do not end there—stress also causes physical changes in the body. In a stressful situation, alarm systems in the brain trigger the release of hormones that prepare you to fight back or flee the scene. Among other results, these chemicals may boost blood pressure, speed up heart rate and make you breathe faster. They may also affect your ability to learn and remember things.

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