Stress as a Cause of Memory Loss

By SheCares Editorial Team | Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Stress as a Cause of Memory Loss

For many women, memory loss is a common and frustrating problem. One of the most widespread causes of this memory loss is stress, which can be further compounded by the memory loss. Understanding more about the relationship between stress and memory can help you to find ways to improve your memory.

Types of Stress

Stress is a broad category that encompasses a number of different situations. Stress can be caused by something external, like something causing pain or an uncomfortable situation, or it can be caused by something internal, like an illness or intense emotions.

There are different levels of stress as well, and the intensity of the stress can influence memory.Short, intensely stressful events can cause memory loss of a specific event - often associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD - but widespread short-term memory loss - forgetfulness or foggy brain - is more likely to be related to chronic stress.

Memory Loss Symptoms

Everybody deals with some degree of memory loss on a daily basis, because nobody has a perfect memory. However, some people struggle more with remembering tasks than others. Short-term memory is most likely to be affected by stress, and common problems that occur with this memory loss are:

  • Forgetting names
  • Losing keys, glasses, or a phone
  • Missing meetings and appointments

How Stress Affects Memory

Stress is bad for memory formation because it essentially overwhelms the brain. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that is generally considered the area in charge of encoding memories. It is very sensitive to a hormone called cortisol, or the stress hormone, which is released as a direct result of stress. The hippocampus is meant to control levels of cortisol, but when cortisol levels are too high, it ultimately hinders the hippocampus's ability to encode memories.

Stress can also make it more difficult for memories to form because people who are stressed tend to be overwhelmed, which means that they are usually distracted and have difficulty focusing. This makes it more difficult for information to become encoded as memories.

It is important to remember that different people will react differently to varying types and amounts of stress. For instance, it may interfere with acquisition, meaning the information is forgotten immediately. Additionally, it may cause problems with encoding, meaning that the information is remembered for a short time - up to a day - but is lost instead of encoded as a long-term memory.

Managing Memory Loss

Unsurprisingly, the best way to manage memory loss that results from stress is to manage the stress that is causing the problems with memory. Lifestyle changes are the most likely to have a beneficial impact on levels of stress. Some possible changes to make are:

  • Begin meditating or practicing yoga
  • Make time for an enjoyable hobby
  • Exercise more often
  • Find a way to express emotions
  • Cut back on a stressful workload if possible

Additionally, in order to cope with the memory problems that are happening right now, a few simple techniques can help, such as:

  • Keeping keys and other important objects in one central location in the house
  • Setting things needed for the next day in the same place, possibly by the door
  • Writing down appointments in a planner
  • Using sticky note reminders placed in obvious areas

Stress affects all aspects of health, not just memory, so it is important to control stress levels. To learn more about managing memory loss, read about possible treatments.