Skip to main content

Brain Health: The Impact of Chronic Stress

An older man with his back to the camera looking over a pond.

Written with contributions by Nikki Prosch, former SDSU Extension Health & Physical Activity Field Specialist.

Stress affects everyone. Stress is your body’s response to a real or perceived harmful situation. When you perceive or experience a threatening situation, your body experiences a “flight-or-fight” response in which your heart rate and blood pressure increase, your breathing speeds up, and your muscles contract. A little stress has actually been shown to be beneficial; however, too much stress can impact a person both physically and mentally.

Negative Effects of Stress

Several origins of dementia have been suggested, and alarmingly, one of those origins is stress. Researchers are devoting more resources to explore how stress impacts the development of dementia. Evidence is mounting that increased cortisol (i.e., hormone released when a person experiences stress) may increase risk of cognitive decline and dementia.1 Stressful events can initiate an increase in stress hormones, which can impact the brain’s hippocampus resulting in memory loss.

Chronic stress that remains unaddressed can lead to the overexposure of cortisol and other stress hormones in your body. As a result, your body processes become disrupted and you may become at risk in developing numerous health problems such as anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and issues with memory and concentration.2

Healthy Stress Management

Due to the implications of stress on the body, it is important to learn how to ease your stress. The following are suggestions for stress management:

  • Practice breathing and find inner peace. Some people find it helpful to learn and practice relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or yoga.
  • Exercise regularly. Please visit our Physical Activity page for tips and tricks on incorporating exercise into your daily routine.
  • Eat healthy. Try to choose fruits, vegetable, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. Please visit our Nutrition page.
  • Utilize effective time management. By managing your time wisely, you may feel less overwhelmed.
  • Engage in hobbies or interests. Your stress levels will be high if you do not make time to have fun.
  • Try to obtain enough rest and sleep.
  • Avoid relying upon alcohol, drugs, or food to help you feel more relaxed.
  • Laugh. The act of laughing can help ward off stress.
  • Try to keep a positive attitude. You can only control certain things, but you can control how you respond.
  • Politely stand up for yourself. Do not become angry or passive; rather, thoughtfully share your feelings, opinions, and beliefs.
  • Spend time with the people you love. A support system may be helpful in managing stress.
  • If you become too stressed, talk with a counselor.

Additional Resources


  1. Ouanes, S., & Popp, J. (2019). High cortisol and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: a review of the literature. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 11.
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015). Chronic stress puts your health at risk.

Related Topics

Aging Well, Health