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Everyone is aware that stress is bad for us in lots of ways, but did you know that it can cause your brain to physically shrink?

Studies have shown that the volume of the Hippocampus can reduce following high levels of stress due to the fact that neurones are being killed off. Given that the central role of the Hippocampus is to preserve long-term memory and spatial awareness, we can see how potentially harmful this shrinkage can be.

Such research is helping scientists to understand why depression has such an effect on memory.

It’s all very well observing the need to change how we react to situations, but still that cycle of negativity and anxiety seems to pull us down.

We’ve all seen that familiar scene of a caged animal, pacing from one end of the pen to the other. It’s never a pleasant sight to see.

This state is known as Learned Helplessness, and occurs in humans too. It refers to a series of events which lead to the belief that you are powerless to change your circumstances.

In one way or another, it’s a feeling familiar to all of us. It could be triggered by losing your job, financial burdens or difficulties in a relationship. It is not hard to see how this constant feeling of helplessness can generate high levels of stress.

So how can we take control?

Meditation can have incredible benefits for mental health as well as general brain function.

Many people dismiss the practice as being the business of deeply spiritual individuals such as monks and nuns, but this is by no means true.

It is thought that as little as 10 minutes spent in quiet contemplation each day can work wonders in helping to regain a sense of control, and managing your anxieties in the short and longer term.

There are a number of different approaches to meditative thought, but there is no need to feel overwhelmed.  If you’re feeling stumped as to how you can get started, just follow these steps for a few minutes each day:

  1. Turn off your phone, radio, your laptop-any potential distractions;
  2. Sit in a comfortable position;
  3. Close your eyes and focus on one thought.

Set yourself small milestones-for example by increasing the time by 1 minute each day until you reach the point where you can achieve a state of calm for a whole 10 minutes.

In a matter of weeks you will find yourself able to make sharper decisions during stressful situations. Meditation time has also been shown to delay or even reverse the aging process. So what are you waiting for-make the choice to take control of your thoughts starting today!

Laura O’Sullivan works as a Literacy Coach for Oxford Learning Solutions, creators of the Easyread System. Easyread helps struggling children improve their reading through short, daily online lessons for dyslexia.