Stressed Out! A Review of the Neurobiological and Cognitive Effects of Stress
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While stress is a common experience, high levels of stress can be dangerous to both physical and mental health. Chronic stress is implicated in many psychological disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, all of which contribute to lower quality of life and a substantial economic burden. The body’s stress response is mediated by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which involves a cascade of signaling molecules such as corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol. Chronic dysfunction of the HPA axis alters brain structure and function, through effects of stress hormones. Exposure to chronic stress may result in cognitive deficits such as impaired decision making and memory, and emotional deficits such as heightened fear/anxiety and depressed mood. While specific treatments for stress-related disorders are in development, current treatments still lack efficacy. Therefore, further research is needed to understand better the root of stress-related disorders and improve treatment outcomes.