How Stress Affects Memory
How exactly does stress interfere with memory? To answer this question we first need to understand how memory works. You may find that stress has nothing to do with you forgetting!
Memory processing allows us to acquire, retain, and recall information and/or experiences. We have short-termmemory and long-term memory. Information is first in our short-term memory and it then gets processed and stored into our long-term memory. How?
|You can think of the three stages of memory processing in the following way: encoding is like listening to songs, consolidation is like recording those songs , and retrievalis like playing back the songs.|
Information makes its way into memory by way of three stage:
1. Encoding is receiving information from the environment and preparing it to become a memory e.g. someone tells you a phone number.
2.Consolidation is how information becomes fixed into our long-term memory. e.g. you work the information by repeating the number in your head. Consolidating a memory is like burning a CD. Once the CD is burnt, it is in your long-term memory store.
3. Retrieval is calling back the information stored in long-term memory when we need to use it e.g. bringing the number to mind and dialing it the next day.
Stress can interfere with each of these stages of memory processing.
Panic Attacks And Memory Loss
Some people who have panic attacks find it difficult to recall what happened just before or during an attack. Panic-related memory loss can happen for some of the same reasons that general anxiety leads to memory loss.
Panic attacks brief episodes of extreme fear are a type of anxiety. They come on quickly, often without warning, triggering symptoms that can feel overwhelming and terrifying:
- difficulty breathing or feelings of choking
- pounding or racing heart
- numbness, tingling, or blurred vision
- feeling of doom
- feeling of losing control
Some people having a panic attack might believe theyre dying or having a heart attack. You might feel totally preoccupied by these unpleasant feelings, lose track of time, and think about nothing except getting through the attack.
Afterward, you might recall the intense panic vividly, but you might not recall exactly how you made it through.
If youve had a panic attack before, you might also worry about having one again, especially when you find yourself in a situation that triggers feelings of worry or fear. When this increase in anxiety occupies your focus, you might also notice some memory trouble.
Memory loss can happen for plenty of reasons.
A few of the other potential causes include:
- regular alcohol or substance use
- side effects of certain prescription medications
Even when you live with anxiety, other concerns can contribute to memory loss, so its important to monitor your difficulty remembering things.
Impairing Effects Of Chronic Stress On Cognitive Function
Prolonged exposure to stress is now recognized as a condition that can induce deleterious effects on brain structure and cognition,, and increase the risks of developing neuropsychiatric disorders., Since most of the pioneer work in the field focused on the hippocampus as a primary target of stress actions,,, the possibility that chronic stress affects hippocampal-dependent learning has been extensively tested. Chronically stressed male rats were shown to exhibit learning and memory deficits in a variety of spatial tasks including the radial-arm maze, the Y maze, the radial-arm water maze, and the Morris water maze.,
184.108.40.206. Personality Traits
The level of locomotor activity displayed by rats in a novel environment has been identified as an accurate index to categorize individuals with relevant psychobiological profiles., By exposing rats to novelty, it is possible to classify them in groups, one comprising those that exhibit a high locomotor activity and another including those that present low levels of activity . See . This behavioral trait of novelty reactivity in rats has been proposed to resemble some of the features of high-sensation seekers in humans.
One of the classic experimental procedures used to characterize animals on the behavioral trait of novelty reactivity. Animals were exposed to a novel environment and their
Don’t Miss: Can Stress Make You Tired All The Time
What Can You Do To Improve Memory
Improving your memory starts by simply integrating more strategies to ensure that your brain is kept active. For example:
- Reduce Your Anxiety Level The most important thing that you can do to improve memory deficits caused by anxiety is to reduce your anxiety. You can do this by going into therapy Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of anxiety disorders. You can also get mindfulness training or learn how to meditate.
- Start a Daily Journal Keep a daily journal of the things you did during the day and the things you want to remember. Be as specific as possible, and then re-read that journal often to keep those memories alive. You’ll start to train your brain to remember these things better, and over time your memory should improve overall.
- Exercise Innumerable studies have established that physical exercise will improves your cognitive abilities including memory. Exercise can also relieve anxiety, so you get both benefits when you go jogging more.
- Learn Mnemonics There are many different tools that improve memory. Simply keeping your memory active is one step. Another is to work on mental strategies that are effective at creating memories faster and with easier recall.
- Sleep Many sleep researchers believe that sleep is actually when most memo are consolidated and become memories. During sleep, your brain processes various thoughts and turns them into long-term memories. Make sure you’re sleeping often to keep your memories alive.
How Does Stress Affect Your Memory: The Inside Story
When under stress, brain freeze like what Jonas encountered happens mostly because your thinking is preoccupied with the stress-inducing stimuli am I looking cool on TV blocking out other thoughts.
But thats not the complete picture.
While low levels of anxiety can affect your ability to recall information high-stress situations, like being robbed at gunpoint, increases your brains ability to encode and recall traumatic events.
A study by Marloes J. A. G. Henckens and team demonstrated how acute stress is accompanied by a shift into a hypervigilant mode of sensory processing in combination with increased allocation of neural resources to noise reduction. This reduction of task-irrelevant ambient noise, in combination with a stress-hormone-induced optimal state for neural plasticity, may explain why stressful events attain a privileged position in memory.
Also Check: How Can You Tell If You Are Stressed
Stress Management May Reduce Health Problems Linked To Stress Which Include Cognitive Problems And A Higher Risk For Alzheimer’s Disease And Dementia
It’s not uncommon to feel disorganized and forgetful when you’re under a lot of stress. But over the long term, stress may actually change your brain in ways that affect your memory.
Studies in both animals and people show pretty clearly that stress can affect how the brain functions, says Dr. Kerry Ressler, chief scientific officer at McLean Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Scientists have seen changes in how the brain processes information when people experience either real-life stress or stress manufactured in a research setting. Either type of stress seems to interfere with cognition, attention, and memory, he says.
Stress affects not only memory and many other brain functions, like mood and anxiety, but also promotes inflammation, which adversely affects heart health, says Jill Goldstein, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Harvard Medical School. Thus, stress has been associated with multiple chronic diseases of the brain and heart. In addition, it can affect men and women differently, she says.
Memory: How Does Stress Affect Your Memory
It’s true! Chronic, long-term stress can indeed impair your memory. When you’re exposed to stress, your body releases hormones, includingcortisol, which may prevent the brain
from remembering newinformation or even retrieving already stored items.
Stress can actuallydamage that part of the brain which is central to learning and memory. It’s called the hippocampus, and according to Robert M. Sapolsky, theproblem centers around the continued secretion of corticosteroids orcortisol.
When your bodyperceives a threat, the adrenal glands release a hormone called adrenalin.If thatperceived threat and a threat can be defined as anything from alife-changing situation to a looming deadline at work islong-term, your system attacks it by releasing cortisol through the adrenalglands. Cortisol remains in thebrain for a longer period of time where it can adversely affect the braincells.
You might think thatimproving your memory is pretty much hopeless, short of shutting out all thestress in your life. Cheer up! That’s not the case. Stresshas another side effect on the body. Exposureto constant stress literally gobbles up your reserves of the vitaminB-complex vitamins in your system. Andwhile that may sound like more bad news, it really leads us to a solution tostress-induced memory loss.
Another recent piece ofresearch you might be interested in: Your system has more trouble dealing with stress when it’slow on the B-vitamins.
GoHERE formore information on the waterbirth video!
Also Check: What All Can Stress Do To Your Body
How To Manage Memory Loss
Memory loss due to depression is typically managed with regular counseling or therapy and antidepressants. Leading an active lifestyle and getting involved in your community can also elevate your mood.
You can also manage your memory loss by using memory aids. Depending on your needs, this could mean using alarm clocks to keep track of time, color-coding household items, or placing safety notes with instructions on appliances. You may also consider getting a home care provider to help you as needed. You may also consider joining a support group.
Medications that can improve memory and brain function in people with Alzheimers disease or other neurological disorders are also available.
Mood Cognition And Behaviour
It is well established that chronic stress can lead to depression, which is a leading cause of disability worldwide. It is also a recurrent condition people who have experienced depression are at risk for future bouts of depression, particularly under stress.
There are many reasons for this, and they can be linked to changes in the brain. The reduced hippocampus that a persistent exposure to stress hormones and ongoing inflammation can cause is more commonly seen in depressed patients than in healthy people.
Chronic stress ultimately also changes the chemicals in the brain which modulate cognition and mood, including serotonin. Serotonin is important for mood regulation and wellbeing. In fact, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are used to restore the functional activity of serotonin in the brain in people with depression.
Sleep and circadian rhythm disruption is a common feature in many psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, play a key modulatory role in sleep. Elevated cortisol levels can therefore interfere with our sleep. The restoration of sleep patterns and circadian rhythms may therefore provide a treatment approach for these conditions.
Depression can have huge consequences. Our own work has demonstrated that depression impairs cognition in both non-emotional domains, such as planning and problem-solving, and emotional and social areas, such as creating attentional bias to negative information.
Also Check: When Are Bank Stress Test Results Released
Finding The Cause Of Memory Loss
If you find that you are increasingly forgetful or if memory problems interfere with your daily life, schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause and best treatment.
To evaluate memory loss, your doctor will take a medical history, perform a physical exam — including a neurologic exam — and ask questions to test mental ability. Depending on the results, further evaluation may include blood and urine tests, nerve tests, and imaging tests of the brain such as computerized axial tomography scans or magnetic resonance imaging .
You may also be sent for neuropsychological testing, which is a battery of tests that help pinpoint the memory loss.
Chronic Stress And Memory
When we experience a threat, the amygdala sets off an alarm which puts the nervous system and body into fight or flight mode. This system exposes the brain and body to high levels of circulating stress hormones. Research has shown that high levels of stress hormones over time can damage the hippocampus . This reduces its ability to encode and form memories.
Additionally, during times of stress, the amygdala will inhibit the activity of the prefrontal cortex. From a biological perspective, this is useful in keeping us alive. Energy and resources are pulled away from higher thought and reasoning and re-directed to bodily systems needed to preserve our physical safety. For example, our sensory abilities are heightened. Our muscles receive oxygen and glucose so we can fight or run.
For most if us, the fight or flight response is usually not needed to keep us alive in todays society. It is not useful during an interview for a job you really want or while out on a date. A chronically activated nervous system actually reduces our ability to function and, over time, damages certain structures in our brain.
Read Also: How To Lower Stress At Work
Can Mental Health Problems And Stress Affect Your Memory
Many of us feel more forgetful than normal at times of stress and anxiety. So why is this, and what should we do if we’re experiencing poor memory in conjunction with poor mental health?
Reviewed byDr Sarah Jarvis MBE
27-Aug-20·5 mins read
It’s a familiar situation: you rush out of your house feeling stressed, only to realise you’ve left your wallet at home. Or you start to panic during an exam or interview, and find your mind going blank. If you’ve ever been accused of being scatty or distracted, you’ll be all too aware of the ways stress can affect your memory.
As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on, chances are we’re all feeling the strain. And while stress and anxiety can affect our functioning in many different ways, memory issues are an important piece of the puzzle. Whether you’ve been experiencing complete blanks in your memory – or are simply feeling preoccupied and repeatedly misplacing your keys – it could be due to shaky mental health.
The Relation Between Stress And Memory
Stress hormones carry a message that tells other cells in our body what to do. The first receivers of these messages are stress hormone receptors. In addition, there are stress hormone receptors pretty much everywhere in our body, including the brain.
Interestingly, the very brain areas that are responsible for our learning and memory functions have the greatest number of stress hormone receptors. We always have to keep in mind what our stress response system was initially designed for: to help to ensure our survival.
The stress response system does this in several ways , but it also helps up to remember relevant details about these situations so that we can avoid them in the future or be better equipped to deal with them a second time.
For instance, if we had taken a different route back from the mammoth hunt and ended up in saber tooth tiger territory , we would need to remember the location of this territory and the methods we used to get away. We managed to do this through the action of stress hormones in brain areas critical for learning and memory. Beautifully said!
In humans, three of the most important learning and memory regions are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex. Each of these brain areas is highly specialized for specific types of memory processing.
These brain areas are all interconnected and talk to each other through several relay systems.
You May Like: How To Get Stress Under Control
Stress Can Make You Forget Things Even If Youre A Memory Champion
Want in on a little secret?
Stress doesnt discriminate between the regular Joe, a presidential candidate or a memory champ.
It does and will mess with your brain.
Like it did for world memory champion Jonas Von Essen.
When Jonas was called to recite the closing credits of Newsnight from memory, he struggled to remember the presenter Jeremy Paxmans surname as well as some other names.
If that doesnt put the spotlights on just how bad stress can be for even the best memory athlete, I dont know what does.
Even as a memory expert, Jonas felt on the spot and stress was part of his embarrassing flub on TV.
But is it really a fail?
The answer is a bit more complex, so lets have a look.
Questionnaires For Stress And Anxiety
The Short Form Perceived Stress Scale
The Short Form Perceived Stress Scale is an abbreviated version of the self-report Perceived Stress Scale . It provides the subjective assessment of stressful life events within the previous month. The PSS-4 consists of four items in which the frequency of stressful events is rated on a 5-point Likert scale . The stress dimensions measured are unpredictability, uncontrollability, and sense of overload in everyday life. Individual scores are compared to normative values. The complete 14-item scale has higher reliability than the PSS-4 , but the brevity of PSS-4 makes it an attractive tool for research.
PSS-4 population norms for non-clinical samples have been gathered in the 1983 Harris Poll in the United States and in the United Kingdom . When comparing our data to the more recent norms established by Warttig et al. , the total PSS-4 score of our sample is very similar . Also the internal consistency of the scale in our sample was comparable to that reported by Warttig et al. .
Table 2. Comparison of average PSS-4 scores in the present sample and in the normative sample collected by Warttig et al. .
The Six-Item Form of the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory
Recommended Reading: How To Meditate To Relieve Stress And Anxiety