Why Stress Makes Us Stupid 

IMMUNITY LESSON 1 It is Time for You to be a Hero

Chronic stress diminishes one’s cognitive ability (i.e., to learn) even when an immediate threat is not present.  Acute and chronic stress also inhibits one’s ability to make the most optimal decisions (partly because inability to learn, but partly because of fatigue, lack of clarity, diminished motivation, and inability to concentrate amongst others).  

Hence, stress is an immense villain to anyone who is learning, which means all of us.  This is not limited to students.  Stress may be an even more egregious villain in the workplace when one begins to learn experientially but is prevented from optimal learning as one’s cognitive ability is diminished AND one’s ability to make optimized decisions is also limited by stress.  

Basically, the employee can’t learn the task or job adequately nor respond with the best solution or work product if stressed.   The CEO is also prevented from making the appropriate decisions that will guide the company to success.  

Stress is essentially a threat to our society and should be considered not only as a harmful villain, but also as an insidious and threatening enemy as stress creates an invisible ceiling of sorts on one’s potential.    

Huge Concept:  Chronic stress releases neurotransmitters and peptides in the brain that causes us to feel less energetic, less motivated, more nervous, and less optimistic than we need to be and want to be.  Stress is one of the major factors that prevents us from achieving the peak of Maslow’s famous triangle, a target and human need that we are all programmed to at least attempt to reach (“What a man can be, he must be.”).  

On the other side of the equation, certain positive activities as well as the act of creating these positive activities causes the release of “good” neurotransmitters that cause us to feel pleasant, good, enthusiastic, and confident in our abilities to overcome challenges that may arise.  

Activities such as, exercise, gratitude, movement, being outdoors, adequate sleep, empathy, love, relaxing in a comfortable environment, a positive attitude, and believing in something generate a cascade of those pleasant and calm inducing neurotransmitters.  It is simply our body’s way of telling us what is good for us and what is bad for us.  We need to listen and do those healthy things that cause us to feel good.  Not too complicated.

Most people do not listen to our body’s messages or do not have the tools to deal with these even if they do recognize them.  They are hung up in the lower strata of Maslow’s triangle still seeking psychological safety and security and preventing the upward transformation that is programmed within all of us.  

Simply, the stress conundrum causes people to feel poorly about themselves, their place in the world, who they are, why they are here and prevents the full enjoyment of the short time they/we have on this earth.  They ALL want to feel better.  Many have headaches, jaw pain, neck stiffness as a result of the tension caused by stress. 

Pain seems to attract attention.  And rightly so.  But the headaches are only the tip of the iceberg as there are many deleterious effects of stress affecting other body systems as previously discussed. 

Also, the iceberg example can be utilized to explain that there is no one cause for pain, headaches and the stressed out feeling that is so pervasive.  There are multiple causes that contribute to the headaches, pain, and tension which are perceived by stressed individuals. All of these stressors contribute to and magnify the total stress load.  

So, to lessen the overall stress load optimally, efforts to correct the contributing factors should be implemented in any effort to lessen the negative effects of stress. 


The physical pain that stress causes is of more concern to most than the psychological pain, but the low level of psychological pain is still perceived as a worrisome pest rather than a harmful villain.  

Medical conditions that are a direct result of Stress and their prevalence in U.S.:

  • Migraine Headaches:  36 million in US.  Life and lifestyle altering pain.  Poorly controlled even with Rx meds. 80% of migraine attacks associated with stress.
  • TMJ/TMJD pain:  35 million in US.  Poorly understood and poorly treated.  Nearly 100% of myogenic (muscular) pain is caused by stress.  Arthrogenic (joint) pain worsened by stress.
  • Tension Type Headaches:  42 million in US.  Inconvenience.  Treated w OTC meds, time, compresses. 100% of Tension Type Headaches are the direct result of stress.
  • Stress (with no physical pain but psychological pain): >100M in US.  Poorly addressed.  No good solution.  Prevalence: Most all people > 12 years old.
  • Psych conditions:  Multiple conditions respond to relaxation.  Prevalence:  60+MM in U.S.  
  • Others:  Teeth grinding, insomnia, depression, PTSD, addictions (esp. opioid crisis), tinnitus, chronic pain syndromes, and multiple other conditions.
  • Occupations that are stressful:  Teachers, doctors, nurses, anyone who sits in front of a computer, police and fire personnel, etc., etc., and most any job that involves a paycheck.

Huge Concept:  It is impossible to be stressed and relaxed at the same time.  This is an example of a well-accepted psychological principle termed “emotional incompatibility” that was popularized in the 1960’s.  It also is impossible to be happy and sad, reactive and creative, or optimistic and pessimistic simultaneously.  Try it.  

Since stress and relaxation are incompatible, one way to diminish stress is to encourage relaxation.  This has been addressed by some over the eons of time with unhealthy habits involving alcohol, substances (legal and illegal), drugs (prescription and illicit), and the like.  

Humans have also employed positive habits such as meditation, exercise, prayer, solitude, long walks, spa treatments, and other healthy means of relaxation (all parasympathetic activators, BTW).  Other positive habits include (You guessed it):  Better Sleep, Attitude, Movement, and Eating.  


” Stress does makes us stupid.  Stress also causes many more problems.  We can limit the effects of stress by practicing positive habits.”

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