Wednesday, March 22, 2023

How Does Stress Affect Memory

When Are You Under Stress A Scientific Definition

Does stress affect your memory? – Elizabeth Cox

This quote is worth reading twice:

When an organism faces emotional distress or is physically challenged the autonomic nervous system, a subdivision of the sympathetic nervous system, is automatically activated. Once activated, a cascade of physiological changes occurs that better enables an organism to confront or escape danger. The term stress applies to the condition under which the autonomic nervous system is activated and stress hormones are released.

And guess what?

When youre frozen, or busy running away, learning gets really tough.

Worse, theres a part of the brain that controls stress that can really wreak havoc on your focus and concentration.

When you undergo a stressful event, the amygdala a part of the brain that enables emotional processing sends a distress call to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is like a command center that communicates with the rest of your body through the nervous system so that you have the energy to fight or flee.

What Is Chronic Stress

The stress response is intended to be an answer toshort-term problems like being chased by a swarm of bees or rushing intobattle.

With chronic stress however, the body remains inthis heightened state for prolonged periods and the stress hormones runrampant within the body. Among the common chronic stress disorders area weakened immune system, ulcers and heartburn, impotence orinfertility, flare ups of acne, psoriasis andeczema, a heightened risk of cardiac arrest and memory problems.

Is The Loss Of Memory A Normal Part Of Aging

Dementia and Aging Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It includes the loss of cognitive functioning thinking, remembering, learning, and reasoning and behavioral abilities to the extent that it interferes with a persons quality of life and activities. Memory loss, though common, is not the only sign of dementia.

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What We Can Do

The brain retains its ability to change throughout the entire lifespan. Studies have already shown that the damaging effects of chronic stress and trauma on the hippocampus can be reversed. For example, the use of antidepressant medication that increases serotonin levels has been shown to counteract the effects of stress on the hippocampus. With antidepressant use, the hippocampal volume in the chronically stressed brain increased.

While the mechanism for the changes in the hippocampus is not fully understood, we can assume that in addition to the increase in serotonin, the reduction in stress that caused the damage in the first place, also plays a role in the reversal of damage to the hippocampus.

Take the steps necessary to reduce chronic stress. Not only will lower stress have a positive effect on your overall quality of life, but it may also begin the process of healing the damage to the brain structures involved in memory. Exercise, therapy, and medication are all options for reversing damages of trauma and chronic stress.


  • Bremner, J. D. . Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8, 445.
  • Zhang, Q., Zhuo, C., Lang, X., Li, H., Qin, W., & Yu, C. . Structural impairments of hippocampus in coal mine gas explosion-related posttraumatic stress disorder. PloS one, 9, e102042.
  • Power, J. D., & Schlaggar, B. L. . Neural plasticity across the lifespan. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Developmental Biology, 6, e216.
  • How Anxiety And Memory Loss Are Connected

    How Does Stress Affect Your Memory?

    The stress response sheds light on how repeated anxiety can lead to memory loss. When your body reacts to real or perceived threats, electrical activity in the brain increases and produces adrenaline and cortisol. Memory loss can result if that process occurs when fear or anxiety is excessive or persists beyond developmentally appropriate periods. Thats because anxiety and stress tax the bodys resources.

    Research like the study published in Brain Sciences acknowledges the relationship between high levels of anxiety and memory loss. One study in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that anxiety disorder is interrelated and inseparablewith loss of memory. It added how anxiety is likely an early predictor of future cognitive decline and possibly future cognitive impairment.

    There is still a great deal to learn about the connection between anxiety and memory loss, which is an ongoing research topic. For instance, thanks to a first-of-its-kind study, there is now evidence that acute stress disrupts the process behind collecting and storing memories. Researchers found that short-term stress-activated certain molecules that in turn limit processes in the brains learning and memory region. As a result, given the link between anxiety and stress, both long-term and short-term anxiety can impact memory.

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    When To Worry About Your Teens Memory Loss

    Worry about your teens memory loss when his lack of information disrupts his daily life 2. Memory loss isnt always permanentseek medical attention if your teen has trouble completing everyday tasks 2. Prescribed and over-the-counter medications can interfere with your teens memory because of possible altered consciousness effects.

    Dementia and Aging Dementia is not a normal part of aging. It includes the loss of cognitive functioning thinking, remembering, learning, and reasoning and behavioral abilities to the extent that it interferes with a persons quality of life and activities. Memory loss, though common, is not the only sign of dementia.

    The Truth About Memory Stress And Cortisol

    In the short term, cortisol may be beneficial .

    However, cortisol binds to cells in that area of the brain that converts new experiences into memory. This binding disrupts the memory-forming process, ultimately making memory impairment permanent.

    Researchers at the University of Iowa also found a connection between cortisol and short-term memory loss in older rats.

    Another study by Cheryl D.Conrad found that chronic stress reduces spatial memory: the memory that helps you recall locations and relate objects. Chronic stress clearly impacts nearly every brain region.

    Precisely the reason you sometimes forget where you kept your car keys when you are about to rush to the office for an important meeting.

    High stress also activates the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream. Adrenaline increases your attentiveness which is important to support your defense mechanism of fight or flight when put in a stressful situation.

    However, adrenaline and memory do not mix well.

    While the increased attentiveness may have a fleeting beneficial effect on memory the anxiety and distress that causes adrenaline production is likely to lead to brain fog and forgetfulness.

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    Forced Retrieval Protects Against Stress

    Posted December 29, 2016

    It is well known that stress can impair memory. Everyone has had some experience of this kind. For a student suffering test anxiety, grades are likely to suffer. In high-stakes social or business interactions, the stress may well cause memory to fail us, as when presidential candidate Rick Perry forgot the name of the agency he wanted to abolish if elected, or when we forget a friends name in the process of making a social introduction. How does stress do this? Is there anything we can do about it?

    First, we need to know what stressful events do to the body and brain. Brain freezes, like Perry’s, probably occur because thinking can get so preoccupied with the stress-inducing stimuli that other thoughts cannot emerge. But other kinds of stress-induced memory impairment come from the well-known fight or flight response in which stress activates the release of adrenalin into the bloodstream. Adrenalin has many bodily effects that support fight or flight, such as raising heart rate and blood pressure, and increasing arousal perhaps to the point of anxiety and fear. The increased attentiveness may have a fleeting beneficial effect on memory, as has been demonstrated in laboratory experiments. But the other effects of adrenalin on anxiety and distress are likely to impair memory.

    Ways To Reduce Stress

    How Stress Affects Your Memory & Brain Health

    Get your sleep

    Sleep is your bodys reset button. Research shows that those who sleep less than eight hours per night are more likely to feel angry, overwhelmed, lack energy, lose patience, skip exercise, and feel an overall increase in stress than individuals that get at least 8 hours of sleep per night.

    Ask for help

    It is okay to ask for help if you are struggling. You can reach out to a family member or a friend. If that isnt possible, visit your GP for a check-up, or locate local mental health professional. For guidance in the United States, NAMI is a great resource.

    Progressive Muscle Relaxation

    Try progressive muscle relaxation. This breathing technique can help reduce stress, muscle tension, and anxiety. To get started, breathe in and tense a muscle group for about 10 seconds when you breathe out, completely relax that muscle group. Wait another 10 seconds before you move to your next muscle group. Hot tip, if you are having trouble sleeping at night, try this while you are laying in bed working through all the muscle groups! For more information and directions.

    Move your body

    The consensus is, exercise is good for stress. But why? And how does it work? When we exercise our body releases chemicals and hormones, the same way it does when we are stressed. However, the chemicals that are released when exercising are considered our bodys natural way of killing pain. We call these endorphins and they are responsible for what people call a runners high.

    Hang with a pet

    Read Also: How To Manage Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

    Trauma And The Hippocampus

    To investigate the effects of trauma on the hippocampus researchers looked at the brains of coal miners who had developed posttraumatic stress disorder after being involved in an explosion . The researchers found that the coal miners with PTSD had significantly reduced volume of the amygdala and hippocampus in comparison to non-traumatized coal miners.

    These findings hold important implications when it comes to memory. Reduced volume in the hippocampus and amygdala due to chronic stress reduces the ability to form and recall memories.

    How Stress Works With And Against Your Memory

    Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

    A little stress can be a great motivator, as any student can tell you. A lot of stress, however, can often create more of an obstacle than a benefit. This is true when it comes to many things, including health-promoting behaviors, relationships, and even our memories. Stress can inhibit the way we form and retrieve memories and can affect how our memory works.

    Fortunately, there is good news here to balance out the bad. Here is what research tells us about the effects of stress on memory.

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    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

    Stress Affects Memory Problem Solving

    How does stress affect your brain? https://www.facebook ...

    Stress Helps Simple Fact Recall, Hurts Flexible Thinking

    However, new research shows that stress actually helps when it comes to recalling simple memorized facts.

    The finding is based on memory and thinking tests taken by 19 medical students and conducted by researchers including David Beversdorf, MD, of Ohio State University.

    When the medical students were one or two days away from exams, Beversdorf and colleagues gave them three tests to see how they fared under pressure.

    The tests were designed to highlight different kinds of thinking skills, including memory and problem solving.

    Participants had an easier time recalling a list of memorized items, but they didn’t do as well on tests that made them consider many possibilities to come up with an answer. Stress interfered with the students’ ability to transfer what they have learned to different, even unique, situations or solve problems.

    “There was a clear relationship between and stress levels,” says Beversdorf in a news release. “The students didn’t think flexibly right before their exam, typically a time of great stress.”

    Chemicals produced by the body under stress may have had an impact, but the study didn’t measure levels of those chemicals.

    Beversdorf presented the findings in San Diego at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. He plans to study pharmacological and other stress-reduction techniques in upcoming studies.

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    The Effect Of Acute Stress On Memory: How It Helps And How It Hurts

    Although we often perceive the effect of stress negatively, research suggests that stress effects are not always detrimental. This review paper examines the impact that acute stress has on memory formation and retrieval by highlighting the ways that stress can help improve memory, but also the ways in which it typically harms memory. This paper focuses on the neurobiology behind the stress response, the ways in which researchers typically examine stress in laboratory experiments, and how such research applies to the real world. This paper also includes suggestions for how to best utilize stress effects to assist our memory ability.

    Think of a time when you have given an important presentation in front of a large group of people. Recall the way your body responded: your heart accelerated, your palms got sweaty, and your entire body became tense. This response could occur in many different situations: receiving a phone call with bad news, fighting with a friend, taking an important test, being interviewed for a new job, or even being attacked. From everyday activities to more severe events, we frequently experience acute stress in our lives. How does our reaction to stress affect our memory? This question lies at the core of the current paper.

    Stress and the Brain

    Stress in the Lab

    How Stress Helps: Examples

    How Stress Hurts: Examples

    What Now: Applied Suggestions


    How Generalized Anxiety Disorder Affects Memory

    If you experience generalized anxiety disorder , you have chronic and persistent anxiety. Your friends and loved ones may describe you as “nervous” or as “a worrier.” You may feel anxious about daily situations and your worry is likely out of proportion or irrational. Anxiety can alter your everyday routines, and it can also have an impact on your memories.

    Memories can be affected when you are under periods of stress or experience some sort of disturbance in mood. Having a significant anxiety disorder like GAD can create some of these problems routinely, leaving you operating below your normal level of memory functioning.

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    Stress Response And Memory Retrieval

    Stressful events activate both the sympathetic nervous system , leading to the release of noradrenaline and adrenaline into the bloodstream by the adrenal medulla, and also the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, leading to the secretion of glucocorticoids into the blood by the adrenal cortex.33. Wolf OT. Stress and memory retrieval: mechanisms and consequences. Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2017 14:40-6. Stress-induced cortisol release can have a direct impact on the hippocampus and the amygdala, brain structures involved in memory and emotional processes.88. Roozendaal B, McGaugh JL. Memory modulation. Behav Neurosci. 2011 125:797-824. Cortisol can cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to glucocorticoid receptors in the hippocampus, thus modulating hippocampal function, and consequently, modulating encoding and retrieval of long-term memories.99. Lupien SJ, Maheu F, Tu M, Fiocco A, Schramek TE. The effects of stress and stress hormones on human cognition: implications for the field of brain and cognition. Brain Cogn. 2007 65:209-37.

    Stress Memory And Animals

    Take Care stress affect your memory!

    Much of the research relating to stress and memory has been conducted on animals and can be generalized to humans. One type of stress that is not easily translatable to humans is predator stress: the anxiety an animal experiences when in the presence of a predator. In studies, stress is induced by introducing a predator to a subject either before the learning phase or between the learning phase and the testing phase. Memory is measured by various tests, such as the radial arm water maze . In the RAWM, rats are taught the location of a hidden platform and must recall this information later on to find the platform and get out of the water.

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    Aims Of The Present Study

    The short literature review above indicates that WM performance can be sensitive to stress- or anxiety-related interference. These effects have been extensively studied in clinical and older adult populations. However, less is known about the effects of stress and anxiety on WM in non-depressed adult populations. This lack of research is baffling given the increasing prevalence of stress in a working age population . Experiencing stress and feelings of anxiety are common in otherwise healthy populations, but we know very little about how these mental states are associated with cognitive performance. Many previous studies are also hampered by the fact that they have used only single WM measures . Therefore, the present exploratory study investigated the relationships between WM performance and stress and state anxiety in a large non-depressed adult sample by using questionnaires and an extensive WM test battery including both verbal and visuospatial task variants.

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