Memory allows us to recall past experiences, learn new information and make decisions, and it’s essential to our everyday lives. But memory is also vulnerable to the effects of stress. Understanding the connection between stress and memory can help you mitigate the negatives. When under stress, our bodies release cortisol, a hormone that can either improve or impair memory formation. Whether cortisol helps or harms us depends on the level and duration of stress. Stress can also interfere with our ability to focus and pay attention, making it more difficult to encode new memories.
As a result, stress can have a significant impact on our short- and long-term memory. If you think your memory is deteriorating as a result of stress, it may be time to seek help. There are many effective treatments for stress-related memory problems, including cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques. With the help of a qualified professional, you can overcome the negative impact of stress on your life and memory.
Stress, Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Stress is our bodies’ natural response to pressure. In small amounts, it can be helpful and serve as mental fuel for us to get things done, achieve our goals and enhance energy and performance. For example, experiencing some stress when preparing for an important exam can be beneficial. It can stop you from procrastinating and crystallize your concentration, resulting in a higher grade.
Unfortunately, stress isn’t always positive, and prolonged or severe stress can be harmful in a few ways. It can lead to anxiety disorders, harm the nervous system and impair memory function. Major life stress can lead to the occurrence of panic attacks. These are sudden episodes of intense fear despite there being no apparent cause. According to the American Psychological Association, a third of people in the United States live with extreme stress. Additionally, 77% of people report having stress levels so high they cause physical symptoms. These symptoms include appetite changes, headaches and muscle tension.
The terms “anxiety attack” and “panic attack” are often used interchangeably; however, there are subtle differences between them. Anxiety attacks tend to be milder and are characterized by worry and anticipation about the future. Panic attacks are more severe and the person actually feels as though they’re in the presence of immediate danger.
The Relationship Between Stress and Memory
Life stress can have a significant impact on memory functions. Stress has been shown to be a key modulator of memory function in particular. We should keep in mind, however, that stress is a very broad topic that may refer to anything from mild stress to chronic anxiety. As might be predicted, not all stressful situations have the same effects on cognitive processes.
Studies show the relationship between stress and memory to be bidirectional. Traumatic memories can cause a stress response, and stress can affect memory formation and retrieval. Normal levels of stress, such as the stress experienced when preparing for exams, can actually improve memory formation. However, new evidence suggests that stress might impair memory retrieval and explains the mechanism for stress causing memory loss.
So, while study stress may encode memories better, if you’re stressed at the moment you need to retrieve the memory, you’ll be at a disadvantage.
The reason people remember traumatic events more vividly than neutral memories is that increased cortisol levels boost memory formation. This can lead to the trauma being encoded deeply into a person’s memory and may result in realistic and graphic flashbacks.
Moreover, long-term or intense stress can be harmful to the brain, including structures involved in memory. Higher stress levels can result in confusion, forgetfulness and an inability to retrieve memories at will. This is commonly referred to as stress-induced memory loss, and if it’s happening to you, it can be a cause for concern.
The Effects of Stress on Memory
It’s well known that stress can cause all sorts of physical and mental problems. One of the less well-known effects of stress is memory loss. Stressful events can have a profound impact on our ability to remember short- and long-term information. The mechanism by which stress affects memory isn’t fully understood. However, it’s believed to relate to the way stress hormones like cortisol impact the brain.
The Role of the Hippocampus in Stress and Memory
The hippocampus is essential for memory creation, structuring and preservation. It’s also involved in linking specific feelings and experiences to these memories. Have you ever noticed how a certain smell may conjure up a memorable event? The hippocampus is a key player in this interaction, and it’s essential in our day-to-day life.
A person’s memories and capacity to create new memories may be affected if the hippocampus is damaged by illness or trauma. Spatial memory, or the capacity to recall directions, places and orientations, can be affected by hippocampus degeneration.
Because the hippocampus is so crucial to the creation of new memories, damage to this area of the brain can have a detrimental effect on memory. When the brains of people with amnesia were examined after death, damage to the hippocampus was found. This type of damage is associated with difficulties establishing specific memories, such as names, dates and events.
Excess cortisol caused by stress can impair the hippocampus. As a result, when you’re under stress, you’re more likely to forget things. Stress-induced memory loss can be short-term or long-term. You might forget your keys, or you might forget an entire year of your life. In severe cases, stress can even lead to amnesia. So, taking some time out to relax might help you remember things more clearly.
Long-Term Impacts of Stress on Memory
While stress-induced memory loss isn’t that common in young, otherwise healthy adults, life stress plays a big role in memory in later life. Upon exposure to stress, the hippocampus can undergo damage over time that can lead to a higher likelihood of encountering memory problems in later life.
Stress is a natural part of life, but too much of it can be destructive and harm your health. If you’re concerned about stress causing memory loss, take steps to reduce it. Here are some tips for reducing stress in your life.
Getting enough physical exercise is paramount to leading a healthy and happy life. It’s also one of the most effective stress busters as it rids our body of excess energy and releases endorphins. Moreover, research has shown that exercise can reduce stress-induced memory deficits.
Mindfulness meditation is a type of mindfulness practice that allows you to focus on the present moment and become aware of your thoughts, emotions and sensations without judgment. Research shows that mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety.
One of the ways mindfulness meditation reduces stress is by helping you to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions. When you’re mindful of your thoughts, you can choose to focus on positive thoughts instead of ruminating on negative ones.
Are you experiencing high levels of stress and wondering “Can stress cause memory lapses?” The unfortunate answer is that stress can negatively impact the quality of life and memory function. While a little stress can be helpful for learning and memory, high levels of stress and anxiety can lead to memory deficits.
FHE Health is a professional mental health facility using state-of-the-art technologies and therapies to help restore mental health to its clients. If you’re finding it difficult to cope with stress, reach out and let us help you. Contact us today by calling (833) 596-3502.