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What is Cognitive Stress?

What is Cognitive Stress?

Stress is everywhere. It’s hard to avoid! And, for the most part, that’s okay. When you start to notice certain cognitive signs of stress, however, it may be a good moment to take a step back and reevaluate some things. But what is cognitive stress, and how does it affect us? 

Cognitive stress refers to any kind of stress that affects a person’s brain or mind. Since stress is something you feel, most stress carries with it a cognitive component — after all, no one likes to feel stressed out or anxious. But in the same way that feeling stressed can make your leg bounce or your stomach hurt, it can cause symptoms that make it hard to keep a clear head and take positive steps.1

A young woman stands in front of a window, taking a moment to lessen her cognitive stress.

The reason this happens is because cognitive stress is a reaction to certain hormones the body releases when it feels that it may be in some kind of danger. These hormones put your brain on “high alert,” which is great if you’re running from a cheetah, but less useful if you’re safe at home and worried about your grades.2 When your brain is reacting this way, it is normal to experience an inability to focus — it’s a “classic” symptom of cognitive stress, often accompanied by racing thoughts or feelings of worry. From here, you might even start to feel a physical reaction, like an upset stomach, irrational hunger, or even heart palpitations.3

Some studies have also suggested that cognitive stress can have long-term effects on how the brain functions, because the brain reacts like a muscle to stimulation. When you're stressed, regions of your brain like the amygdala, which control your alertness to danger, are being used more strongly than other regions. It's like they’re getting a workout, while other areas are receiving less attention.4

Tips for Avoiding Cognitive Stress:

A woman paints blue on a canvas using a smart compression sleeve to help reduce cognitive stress.

If this is the case, then cognitive stress can be countered with mental wellness, which is, in many ways, its opposite. If “exercising” the stressed-out regions of your brain makes them stronger, then it’s a great idea to keep the rest of your brain as active as possible too! Taking the time to go for a walk, meditate, practice a sport, or get in a quick workout leads to a lot of benefits that quickly add up. 

What is cognitive stress, really? It is a mental block, a barrier that makes it harder for you to get to where you want to go. It is also a normal part of experiencing things! But in the long term, it can cause issues that are best avoided.4 With healthy habits, including eating and sleeping right, you can avoid most complications or signs of cognitive stress. And if you’re having trouble even then, eSmartr is here to help!


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