Stress becomes physiological

whiteboard trianglesRemember when you were in math class at school? You may be reluctant to admit it, but perhaps you enjoyed it at least occasionally while you accidentally learned stuff.

But for too many young people, the process of learning can be damaged by excessive stress that accumulates to reduce ability.

Family turmoil and other problems cause physical changes in the brain that make learning more difficult – especially math.

Adolescents who are chronically exposed to family turmoil, violence, noise, poor housing or other chronic risk factors show more stress-induced physiological strain on their organs and tissues than other young people. The cardiovascular systems of youths who are exposed to chronic and multiple risk factors are compromised. When stressed by a mental arithmetic problem, the cardiovascular systems of adolescents who had been exposed to chronic risk factors responded less actively.

In Developmental Psychology, psychologist Gary Evans published the first study to look at how maternal responsiveness may protect against the build-up of stress, as well as the first to look at cardiovascular recovery from stress in children or youths. [story]

When a person’s under stress or injured, the adrenal gland releases cortisol to help restore the body’s functions to normal. But the hormone’s effects are many and varied, lowering the activity of the immune system, helping create memories with short-term exposure, while impairing learning if there’s too much for too long. [new research]