The effects of recent stressful life events on brain structure
Stress is a common experience in most people's lives, and it may be due to life events such as the break-up of a relationship or financial difficulties. When we experience stress, our brains are central to interpreting the stressful event and mobilising our 'fight-or-flight' response to deal with the situation. It is believed that experiencing high levels of continuous stress or many stressful events can cause changes within the brain. Previous studies have indeed seen that the brain appears to shrink due to stress. Stress is one of the main triggers seen in the development of several psychiatric disorders such as depression or schizophrenia, and so it is possible that these stress-related changes in the brain may leave a person vulnerable.
This project will look to investigate the effects of stressful life events on changes in the brain. As part of our analysis, we will be looking at brain scans taken at two different timepoints that will allow us to compare how the brain has changed over a period of several years, and whether this is due to any stress experienced within that period. The project is expected to last approximately 3 years.
Our findings may help to identify if there are certain areas within the brain that are vulnerable to stress, giving us more insight into how stress affects the brain and the role it plays in mental health. In turn, these findings may inform public health initiatives to help people manage their stress or find ways to reduce it.