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Stress: A Silent Killer

With finals week quickly approaching, I know that you all must be super stressed out right now. Don’t worry, I’m stressed too as I sit here writing this blog with my chemistry notes scattered around me, hoping the information will just magically transport into my brain. But wait!... just kidding, there’s no neurotechnology that can do that (yet). However, there is neurotechnology to help combat stress, so let’s take a deeper look into exactly how stress affects your brain, and how “mindful wearables” can help detect and lower stress levels.

Obviously, stress is detrimental to your health, but did you know that stress can actually alter your brain’s physiology? When you experience stress, the amygdala, which is the fear receptor of your brain, initiates a fight-or-flight response by sending an electrical signal to your hypothalamus, the center for several metabolic processes and hormone production. By doing so, the physical result is increased adrenaline, awareness, heart rate, respiration rate, etc. But that is typically the reaction you get to a singular, significantly stressful stimulus in your environment. So how does chronic stress alter your brain’s physiology in the long-run? Cortisol is a stress hormone in your body, so chronic

stress can lead to a continual release of cortisol that eventually builds up in your brain. This excess cortisol in the brain can have a variety of detrimental effects including: reduced memory, difficulty in learning, higher risk for mental illness and depression, and a decrease in your ability to be emotionally resilient. While younger people’s brains tend to handle stress better than older people’s brains, this doesn’t mean you’re completely off the hook. Younger people do have greater brain plasticity, which is the quality of your brain that allows it to form new adaptive neural pathways, but chronic stress can slowly damage some of these specific pathways; on top of that, the ability of your brain to respond to these damages can decrease with age as your brain plasticity decreases.

So how does neurotechnology fit into this terrifying grand scheme of stress? Specifically, “‘mindful’ wearables” are a type of neurotechnology that can provide neurofeedback, which means that the technology generates a representation of your brain activity, typically in the form of an EEG, in order to teach you how to change your mental state to reduce stress. Many “mindful wearables” can also monitor your overall mood and cognitive state in order to detect early warning signs of

issues like depression and other mental illnesses commonly associated with chronic stress. The algorithm of these EEG-based mindful wearables are targeted towards recognizing certain indicators of stress; specifically, they recognize specific alterations of typical brain wave patterns. In doing so, such neurotechnology allows people to monitor their mental health and proactively respond, thus allowing them to be more mindful. Specific products that accomplish this that you can look into are Muse, NeuroSky Mindwave, and Affectiva, to name a few.

Mindful wearables are a great example of how neurotechnology is becoming more and more accessible to a general consumer market. I think with additional research and by improving the accuracy of non-invasive neurotechnology, there will definitely be cheaper and more effective forms of neurofeedback in the future. Personally, I find this super amazing because imagine how easy it would be for people to be in control of their own mental health. Clearly neurotechnology has a great potential to utilize EEG to not only discover biomarkers for certain neurological and mental health disorders, but to also help normal people like you and me detect, and thus act on, negative alterations to our brain patterns.

With that being said, I urge you all to take care of yourself during this finals season! Always put your mental health first, and I wish you all the best of luck as you conquer your finals!

Works Cited:

  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/resilience

  • https://www.wareable.com/health-and-wellbeing/wearable-tech-mental-health-anxiety-dementia-3842

  • https://www.tuw.edu/content/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain

  • https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/7755604

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