Can Stress cause memory problems?
“I know that I parked my car on the 3rd level” – but in my rush to get to the shops and get what I needed, I forgot to look around to see what section I was parked in. “Was it in the green section or blue section?”
As I wandered around the car park on the 3rd level looking for my white car, I try not to look like I am lost, but just walking casually to where my car should be. “Where is it?” When I walked past some other shoppers in the car park, I hoped that my facial expression did not show how I really felt, really worried, stressed out and extremely lost.
“I can’t find my car – am I losing my mind? Am I getting Alzheimer’s?”
I have to retrace my footsteps, go back to where I first started and see if I can recognise any landmarks. There is nothing worse than losing your car in a huge car park!! And what’s worse, I have spent so much time looking for my car, the parking time limit is up and now it’s going to cost me money. “Oh … and I nearly forgot, I have to pick up my friend at 2.30pm and now it is 3.00pm! I’m already half an hour late, and I’ve still got to get through the traffic which is peak hour now, because schools have just come out!”
Have you experienced something similar to this yourself? Absolute Stress…
Is losing your car in the car park a reason to be concerned about your memory? It all depends if it happens all the time or just occasionally. Is my memory okay? Does it happen just because I’m stressed out?
Stress can play a big part when it comes to being forgetful and having memory slips. If you are under constant stress, you may experience symptoms like memory problems, and loss of concentration as well as headaches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping or recurrent nightmares, irritability, backaches or rapid heartbeat.
Stress is your body’s physical reaction to change and involves the “fight or flight” response activated by your autonomic nervous system. This controls and stimulates the production of two hormones, Cortisol and Adrenaline. These hormones make the heart beat faster, elevate blood pressure, change the digestive processes and boost glucose levels in the blood stream to give you the energy needed to “fight or flight”. When the possible threat has passed, your body system slowly returns to normal.
How does this affect your memory or brain? When we are stressed and produce the stress hormone Cortisol, thousands of neurons (brain cells) can die off. When we are highly stressed, we seem to think less clearly and tend to forget even simple things.
Excess Cortisol causes a decline in the day-to-day function of your brain. Cortisol robs the brain of its only source of fuel: Glucose. It also wreaks havoc on your brain’s chemical messengers – your Neurotransmitters – which carry your thoughts from one brain cell to the next. When your neurotransmitter function is disrupted and when your brain’s fuel supply plummets, it’s difficult for you to concentrate and to remember.
Many scientists now believe that excessive exposure to stress can actually shrink your brain.
People involved in stressful occupations and/or occupations that alter sleep patterns, or disturb sleep are at particular risk of suffering from excessive levels of cortisol. High powered executives are at risk of burnout, employees who work night shift and/or changing shift patterns, mothers of newborns and anorexia nervosa sufferers should actively take measures to manage their cortisol levels.
Cortisol levels can be raised by everyday situations and habits such as commuting, sleep deprivation and coffee consumption.
The solution is – You must realise that you can’t always control what happens to you but that you can usually control how you react to it. That probably sounds like common sense, because it is. It is very important because it can enable you to keep stressors from becoming stress.
If you want to stay free of chronic stress, you have to be in control of your own life, on a daily basis.
So in order to control your stress levels, you need to pay attention to your diet, exercise, the people you socialise with, the way you think and your level of mental activity.