Mario decides to accept the invitation of a more experienced friend of his who invites him to participate in a climb. Mario is sure that he will be a fantastic experience and therefore decides to bring his camera. In his imagination he can already imagine himself leaning out into the void and with ease… click, click, click… immortalize his feat in the fabulous alpine world. In reality, things don’t turn out to be that easy.
Not because Mario finds it difficult to climb. But a certain anxiety begins to accompany him as he climbs. He constantly begins to surface the fear that the rock may come off or that the anchors will not hold. He knows very well that it is an unlikely event, but rationality cannot get the upper hand over the fifa. The environment is certainly wonderful, but everything is so random.
When he reaches his friend at the belay, he realizes that he is hanging from forty meters high, secured to a (very solid, but for him completely ephemeral) “bolt” walled into the rock. “Come on, Mario, shoot, shoot ..!” his friend tells him. Mario takes out the device, but instead of clicks, clicks… the only noise you hear is the tlack, tlack, tlack… produced by the boot hitting the rock due to the uncontrollable tremor of his left leg. “Mario, what the hell are you doing
” “Gigi, I don’t remember how to turn on the camera anymore!”.
This anecdote clearly illustrates the impact that acute stress can have on the functioning of our brain. In this case, under the influence of a very intense emotional experience – bordering on panic – the protagonist “forgets” a very simple motor task, the one necessary to turn on the camera.

What happens in our brains when we are under stress
The cause of this phenomenon lies in the strategies that our brain adopts when it perceives a threat: it operates a kind of “coup”, entrusting the control and decision-making mechanisms to the most archaic and tested parts – and “turning off” the more recent parts ( and therefore considered more “unreliable”). The amygdala takes over by inhibiting the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, the most evolved part of our brain. This “coup” is also accompanied by a drastic change in the hormonal scenario, which is dominated by stress hormones.
All this makes the procedures (such as knowing how to turn on the camera) and the data stored, but not sufficiently stabilized in memory, more difficult to access. This is the reason why at school, during a dreaded exam, it seemed to you that all the things you studied had suddenly evaporated.
The described mechanism also works in the same way in contexts of chronic stress and mental fatigue . If we rarely happen to hang in the air like Mario, nevertheless we face relationship conflicts, trafficking, family problems and economic worries on a daily basis. The effect is the same, although diluted over time. Chronic exposure to stress exacerbates cognitive problems.
For example, the diminished functionality of the prefrontal cortex impairs our ability to pay attention, which is why we struggle to concentrate when we are stressed. The weakening of the pre-frontal areas also changes the way we process information. It becomes difficult to be rational and our logical reasoning skills drop dramatically.
At the same time, we tend to make decisions more impulsively and emotionally (so be warned: don’t consider marriage or financial investment proposals at the end of a stressful week!). Finally, the icing on the cake, the high levels of cortisol (one of the main stress hormones) wreak havoc on the hippocampus, the central structure in data storage. This is why when we are chronically stressed we struggle to recall data in memory, with the exception of those believed to be related to the source of our problems – which obsessively return.

Physical exercise to prevent the effects of stress and mental fatigue on the brain
What are the solutions to “cure” and prevent the effects of stress and mental fatigueon the brain
There are two avenues: exercise and supplementation .
Practicing moderate physical activity balances the factors described above: the main reason for this is that exercise raises brain levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF is one of the responsible for neurogenesis: it promotes the growth of neurons and protects their survival by increasing the production of antioxidants and protective proteins. BDNF also represents the best protection against damage due to prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels.
Obviously we could discuss what is meant by “moderate physical activity”, since the word “moderate” lends itself to very subjective interpretations. First of all, I would like to clarify that what I am saying does not imply that it is wrong to practice strenuous exercise in itself. It should be borne in mind, however, that the training load in turn increases the so-called “allostatic load”; that is the price that our body pays to keep the system in balance in the face of stress and mental fatigue.
Each of us has a certain threshold beyond which stress is no longer counterbalanced, but accumulates: it becomes chronic. It is exactly the picture we have described so far, talking about the consequences on our brain. So in moments of accumulation of stress, the winning strategy is to suspend demanding workouts to favor more moderate forms of exercise (challenging and moderate always relative to your level).

Supplementation to combat stress and mental fatigue
Supplementation to combat stress and mental fatigueit is an increasingly widespread phenomenon. Today it involves many principles and products, in spite of a very precise and limited scientific evidence. The substances with respect to which the scientific literature has shown positive effects in coping with cerebral stress are Omega-3 fatty acids , Vitamin C , B vitamins and magnesium .
In an interesting critical review published in 2017, the researchers analyzed forty researches focused on the effects of using supplements to reduce stress and mental fatigue levels in women. The review concluded that fatty acids are effective in decreasing perceived stress and cortisol levels in pregnant and pre-menstrual women, and even during menopause in the absence of depression. Positive effects were also found in the use of vitamin B6 and magnesium.

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