Stress May Mess With Spacial Awareness

It’s a plain and simple fact that many of us in this country are way too stressed, way too much of the time. Besides interfering with our ability to enjoy life, all of that stress can be hazardous to our health.

We’ve previously covered how stress can be toxic to your gut health, and therefore your immune system, how it can impair your memory and focus, how it can make you age more quickly, and how it can underlie inflammation, which can pave the way for many a chronic disease. Not a pleasant state of affairs. 

Now, a new study, performed at the Collaborative Research Centre 874 of the Ruhr University Bochum, has linked stress to an impaired ability to process “complex spatial information.”

For their study, which was published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, researchers tested the ability of young men to perceive both faces and scenes while under stress, and also in a stress-free state, for a control group.

The researchers induced stress in the test group of young men by submerging their hands in ice water for up to three minutes, while they were being filmed by a female researcher. This is known as the “cold pressor method,” and is widely used in researching stress and its effects. 

The young men were then shown images of faces, as well as images of scenes. Results of the study found that the ability of both the stressed group of men and the control group to distinguish between faces remained similar. However, the stressed men were found to be less able to differentiate between complex scenes.

To explain these results, PhD student Marcus Paul stated: 

Mad agressive man designer looking on monitor and shouting“Our results confirm the notion that whereas scenes are processed in the hippocampus, faces are processed in adjacent areas of the temporal lobe. Stress has a deciding influence on the hippocampus. It not only affects memory, but also spatial perception.” 

The results of this study paint a pretty disturbing picture, as complex spatial processing of scenes is pretty darn important to daily life. We use it to navigate our environments, and if we’re missing details, this can be highly detrimental. Plus, many of us drive to and from work every day, and if we’re stressed, this may mean that we cannot drive as effectively. Dangerous, indeed. 

For the sake of your health, it is imperative to get chronic stress under control. The first step starts with scheduling. Are you overloading yourself, so that you do not even have time to breathe between meetings and events? Make sure you schedule personal time for yourself — it’s highly important to unwind — and say “no” to nonessential tasks and invitations. Staying calm and stress-free is more important than pleasing all of those around you.

Meditation is a time-tested way to relieve stress, and it’s been utilized for thousands of years because, well, it works. Even if you just meditate for five minutes in the morning, and five minutes at night, you may start to see significant benefits. This ancient practice can help to get you in the “now,” allow you to center your mind, and let go of those anxiety-provoking thoughts churning around in your brain. 

Yoga is another effective method of letting go of stress. Besides being good for your mind, yoga is also great for your body. Bonus: yoga and meditation can be combined, for even more stress-busting results. 

How do you relieve your everyday stress? Is there one method that you’ve found to be particularly effective?

—Tanya  Rakhmilevich

Tanya is a writer at The Alternative Daily with a passion for meditation, music, poetry, and overall creative and active living. She has a special interest in exploring traditional Eastern remedies and superfoods from around the globe, and enjoys spending time immersed in nature.


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