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Too Much Stress Will Literally Shrink Your Brain, Experts Warn

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Looking for an excuse to chill out this weekend? This may be as good as any.

Your spouse is yelling, your kids are crying, you're late to work and you're not even prepared for the meeting. You probably are dealing with a lot of stress.

And everyone has their way of handling it.

"Take a minute," one woman said. "Take a breath. Find a way to stay calm and just take care of yourself."

"Go home and take a nice, long hot bath," another said.

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Experts say dealing with those difficult situations is important.

Perhaps more than ever after new research shows stress can literally shrink your brain.

Published in The Journal of Neurology, scientists studied brain MRIs and found higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol were associated with lower volume and impaired memory in younger- to middle-aged adults, especially women.

"That's brain chemistry," said Dr. Desmond Oathes, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. "What's really important -- this is a large study that is looking at neurologically healthy individuals."

Essentially, higher stress led to smaller brains in otherwise healthy people.

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Dr. Oathes says this should be a wake-up call for people in high-stress jobs.

"In terms of people who are otherwise healthy, there isn't a recommended practice," Dr. Oathes said. "Engaging more with family, friends, things like that could be protective in those circumstances."

"It just need an outlet. Unless you give it that fun time, that together time, that outlet, it just eats you up inside," one man said.

A psychiatrist Eyewitness News spoke with said if you are dealing with a lot of stress in you're life, it's important to recognize changes you may be experiencing.

Then, get professional help or do something that relaxes you. He also suggests getting some sleep.

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