Can Stress Cause Memory Loss? Get The Facts : Smart Memory Power

Can Stress Cause Memory Loss? Get The Facts

Well, the short answer to the question ‘Can stress cause memory loss?’ is yes, definitely.

I recently answered a question for someone over on Yahoo Answers on this very topic, so I thought I’d share the answer with you too.

Stress can actually be very damaging indeed for the memory.

Why Does Stress Cause Memory Loss?

stress cause memory lossWhen you’re stressed, your brain releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is there to divert energy away from low priority body functions like your immune system.

It does this in order to give more energy to the more crucial functions needed to deal with stress (increased heart and breathing rates for example).

While useful in certain ‘fight or flight’ situations, this hormone can damage your ability to remember, particularly if you’re regularly stressed.

Cortisol particularly affects an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for moving short-term memories into the long-term memory.

The stress hormone will limit the hippocampus’ ability to function. As a result, when you learn something new and it enters the short-term memory, there’s a lot less chance of it being moved into long-term memory.

Without the experience going into the long-term memory, there’s little chance you’ll remember it properly.

Excess cortisol will also affect your ability to recall existing memories, even ones you’ve had for years.

If you remain stressed for long periods of time, you can also damage structural elements of the brain called dendrites and axons, which support new memories.

This adds to the sense of panic because your body is being made to react to a stress-inducing situation (a stressor) in order to fight or run away.

Why Medication Isn’t Always The Answer…

If you have depression or anxiety-related disorders, your doctor may recommend medication such as anti-depressants. However, this may actually hurt your memory even further.

Drugs that reduce stress cause memory loss too. For example, benzodiazapines (like lorazepam) are often used to treat anxiety but can inhibit your short-term memory and even impair your ability to think.

The Solution?

There are several more natural ways to reduce the stress you feel. Here are just a few:

  • Aim to spend some time each day relaxing. Even if it’s only 15 minutes, allow yourself to do something pleasurable. Even going for a walk in natural surroundings, like a park, can considerably reduce your stress levels.
  • Observe what it is that’s stressing you out. Even in the act of observing it, you can change the way it appears to you. Be careful to just observe and not judge it. For more on this check out Andy Shaw’s brilliant book, A Bug Free Mind.
  • Spend time with your pets (if you have some) – Research has shown that people with pets (particularly cats) have lower blood pressure and are calmer.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – As the title suggests, this will help you to change the behaviours and though patterns that are causing you to become stressed. There’s a great deal of evidence to show that this approach works very well in helping people with severe or chronic stress.

There are many more ‘stress relievers’ out there, but those listed above a good start.

So, if you came here asking ‘Does stress cause memory loss?’, this post should have cleared things up for you.

How do you relax and de-stress? Have you had experience of stress causing memory loss? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Category: Memory Power Tips

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I'm James Gladwell, chief contributor and editor of I'm fascinated by the human mind and I set this site up in order to help people increase their memory power, while I learned how to improve mine. Feel free to leave a comment on the site and let me know how you think I can make the site better.

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