A funny thing happens to stressed-out rats. They fall into a rut. They can learn to press a bar for food—but, unlike their unpressured peers, they don’t know to stop when full or adapt to changes in the environment. Under stress, behaviors become habits more easily, finds a study at the University of Minho in Portugal. Habit-forming regions of the brain expand; goal-directed ones shrink. Is this why we find our burned-out selves stuck in a rat-race job? Or trapped in a dead-end relationship? The more stress, the less change. Scrape together what’s left of your volition and shake yourself up—with meditation, extreme travel, glow-in-the-dark bowling-- you know what it takes. Four weeks—that’s how long it took rats to get out of their ruts completely (and regenerate neurons in brain regions related to goal- and decision making) once stressors were removed.
Next: 7 ways to relieve stress in under an hour