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The Silent Thief: The Role of Stress in Memory Loss, and What You Can Do…

 

Stress is a common part of life, but it can wreak havoc on our cognitive abilities, including working memory.

Working memory is essential for everyday tasks like focusing, learning, and decision-making. When stress impairs working memory, it can lead to a frustrating cycle of forgetfulness, self-blame, and even more stress.

 

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The Struggles and Symptoms of Stress-Weakened Working Memory:

  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Increased forgetfulness
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Problems multitasking
  • Feeling overwhelmed and scatterbrained

 

The Cycle of Stress and Poor Memory:

When stress impairs working memory, things get tough. Really tough.

We get Irritated.

Frustrated.

Down-right Aggravated.

 

And with the unwanted and inevitable red mist descending like a late March snow fall (I know, I’m sorry), the stress/memory loss/stress cycle can lead to a vicious spiral of self-perpetuating annoyance, where the distress worsens memory, and poor memory makes it harder to deal with stress.

And a poor memory can have us thinking the worst, wondering whether we’re moving towards a state of permanence in this area.

Thoughts of age-related degeneration start to creep in for some. Health anxiety rises within others.  ‘Life efficiency’, and the 21st century productivity expectation we all feel from time to time starts to plummet towards 98%. Eeeeeeek.

We start beating ourselves up if we’re not functioning at our (or others), over-expectant need of absolute perfection, exacerbating the stress, worsening the memory, and around and around we go.

 

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Now, you know when those names you’ve forgotten sit tantalisingly on the tip of the tongue, or that film, you know, with what’s-her-name in it, you know the one right, the one that looks like that other person in that TV series from 2000-and-something… that film we just can’t put a title to, seems to come so easily when we just stop thinking about it.

It often appears when we’re in the shower, on the loo, in the cereal aisle in Sainsburys, when we, yep you guessed it, we de-stress the mind and reduce the pressure on ourselves to ‘deliver’.

But how often can we honestly say we exercise the slowing down of things in the more important world of let’s say, work, when demands increase and memory wanes?

Hmmm. I thought so.

 

Certainly not anyone’s fault that’s for sure, but society now doesn’t generally allow for 20 minutes kip 3x times a day between the 9 to 5 (or more like the 8 to 6, I hear you think).

 

8 Ways Impaired Memory Can Affect Your Life:

  • Work
  • Relationships
  • Finances
  • Education
  • Daily Tasks
  • Safety
  • Overall Well-Being

 

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  1. Work: Difficulty remembering deadlines, instructions, and priorities

Struggling with short-term memory loss can really impact your job. Imagine not being able to recall deadlines or understand complex instructions; it can lead to errors, missed delivery dates and meetings, and, yep, you guessed it once again, up pops our old foe, increased stress.

Your brain’s short-term memory helps you hold onto information for a short period, like remembering a phone number for a few seconds. But stress affects short to long-term consolidation. If it’s not working well, you might forget important details crucial for your work tasks. This can make you feel overwhelmed and frustrated, affecting your overall performance and causing distress.

  1. Relationships: Forgetting important dates, appointments, and commitments.

Forgetting important dates, appointments, and commitments due to short-term memory loss can strain relationships, and can lead to frustration and disappointment for both partners. For instance, missing anniversaries or forgetting to pick up children from school can create tension and erode trust between a couple.

  1. Finances: Missing bills, forgetting to pay rent, or making poor financial decisions.

Short-term memory loss issues can significantly impact finances by causing individuals to miss bills, forget to pay rent, or make poor financial decisions. Forgetting important deadlines and commitments can lead to late fees, missed opportunities, and financial instability. It’s like misplacing your wallet but with important financial matters, causing stress and financial setbacks

 

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  1. Education: Difficulty learning new information, remembering coursework, and completing assignments

Short-term memory issues can significantly impact education by causing difficulty in learning new information, remembering coursework, and completing assignments. Students may struggle to retain what they’ve learned in class, leading to challenges in exams and overall academic performance

  1. Daily Tasks: Forgetting errands, appointments, or medications.

Short-term memory issues can significantly impact daily tasks, leading to forgetting important errands, appointments, or medications. For example, someone might forget to pick up groceries, miss scheduled doctor appointments, or overlook taking essential medications on time. These memory lapses can disrupt daily routines and potentially lead to consequences like missed opportunities for medical care or essential supplies

  1. Safety: Difficulty remembering safety hazards or procedures.

Short-term memory issues can pose significant safety risks by causing difficulty in remembering safety hazards or procedures. For instance, someone may forget to turn off the stove after cooking, leading to a fire hazard, or fail to recall important safety protocols in the workplace, increasing the risk of accidents. These memory lapses can jeopardize personal safety and that of others

  1. Overall Well-being: Increased frustration, anxiety, and difficulty managing stress.

Short-term memory issues can significantly impact general well-being by causing increased frustration, anxiety, and difficulty managing stress. For example, forgetting important tasks or appointments can lead to frustration and heightened stress levels. This can create a cycle of anxiety, as individuals worry about their memory lapses and struggle to cope with daily responsibilities, affecting their overall mental health

 

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So Why Does Stress Create Memory Loss?

When we’re stressed, our brains release hormones like cortisol, which can interfere with memory formation and retrieval.

This happens because stress activates the “fight-or-flight” response, diverting resources away from cognitive functions like memory, towards more important survival instincts.

Think of stress as something super dramatic, such as being chased down by (the usual therapist’s metaphor) – a lion.

You are uber -focused on the lion (hopefully) – your heartbeat raises to get that blood and oxygen to the running muscles, your whole body gets a little sweaty to cool the engine, and your eyes become tunnelled in their vision.

Your brain also fogs any other things buzzing around in the day-to-day… just for a second imagine concerning yourself with the tax to be paid at the end of the month, or where you left your keys when you came in – at this point, that’s dangerous thinking when you’re living in the world where you have a lion chasing you down after all.

So your brain fogs all these concerns away and you’re left with a hyper-focus on the one thing you should be thinking about. The lion. The ‘stressor’.

Now exchange the lion in our metaphor for various other stresses going on in life at the moment, and you can see how this is a very normal (if still very frustrating), response to high-stress situations.

Now the lion hasn’t actually got you in its jaws at this point, so what’s the worry? Well, your human mind and body are responding through prediction – it senses things might happen, and runs scenarios in your mind beforehand, firing up the engine in readiness.

So we get stressed at the ‘might be’s’ too, even though they might not be, also.

Understanding that memory loss can be a ‘stress thing‘, and not a health thing (as long as it’s short-term), can empower individuals to adopt coping strategies and to seek support to mitigate its negative effects on life and overall well-being.

 

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How Long Does It Take to Recover from Memory Loss?

The good news is that working memory usually begins to recover straight after a stressful event or period. However, the amount of time it takes can vary depending on the severity and duration of the stress, and whether other stresses in life are continuing to carry the flag, one taking over from the other.

Benefits of Regaining Memory:

  • Improved focus and concentration
  • Enhanced learning and problem-solving abilities
  • Increased productivity and efficiency
  • Reduced frustration and anxiety
  • Improved overall well-being

 

What Can I Do Today To Help Recover From Memory Loss?

Self-Care Ideas to Help Memory:

Here are a handful of the self care ideas that you probably know already if you’re a fastidious researcher of all things to do with mental and physical well-being. If you aren’t aware of these, consider bringing one or two of these into your day as a semi-regular routine and it can begin to work wonders for you.

I’m a big fan of self care ideas because

  1. They’re FREE, and
  2. Because you can start today!

 

Get enough sleep: I know – Yaaaawn. Literally. But sleep is KEY to robust and resilient mental health, so if you can only do one thing, work on this.

Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night – but as well as a solid sleep routine (bed at a decent time – cool room with window open – zero light in the room, etc), try as best you can to get a little extra rest.

Rest doesn’t always mean sleep, it can mean slowing down to a stop. And yes, everything in your body will fight against sitting and doing zip in this dog-eat-dog world of constant production and distraction. But cut it out. And start now. Cause it’s dirt cheap, instantly available, and it’s so damn effective.

Eat and drink healthily: Focus on when to eat as well as what to eat. Try not to snack, and make something of an effort to fast occasionally, if you’re medically cleared to do this. Getting the essential macros (fats, proteins, carbs, vitamins and minerals) is essential, and often different from person to person, so try to do a little research – and drinking more water is always good – there’s a lot to hydration more than just improved liver and kidney function. There are brain benefits too.

Exercise regularly: Physical activity can improve cognitive function. And I mean ANY activity. Stand more in the day. Walk. Lift weights. Do yoga. Add in a little extra-strenuous couples’ time, if you get me. Anything is better than nothing. Make it fun and yep, you’ll do it more. Funny that.

Practice relaxation techniques: Techniques like deep breathing and meditation can seem a little too woo-woo for most, but research says that it can help reduce stress and improve focus. Stare out of a window and watch birds (my new thing). Draw. Paint. Garden (this is relaxing and exercise!). Find your thing and practice. Often.

 

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Challenge your brain: Engage in activities that stimulate your mind, such as puzzles, learning a new language, or playing brain games. My partner recently got me into Sudoku and now I regularly (although very poorly), challenge myself from ‘easy’ through to ‘evil’ levels to give my brain a workout.

Reduce screen time: Ahhhh, you knew it was coming. Excessive screen time can be distracting and can greatly impair memory. Sorry.

Now, do schedule a little time for some scrolling. We’re not talking about total removal as that can be stressful for some. But the easiest way to do less, is to do more, ideally with some of the above. Stopping is easiest by starting something else.

 

When Self-Care Isn’t Enough: Seeking Professional Help, Helps

Now, if none of those self care ideas are things you can get going regularly and if you’re struggling to manage stress or memory loss on your own, consider seeking professional help.

A good, trained, professional therapist can help you find coping mechanisms for stress and help you develop strategies to improve your memory.

 

Solution-Focused Hypnotherapy: An Alternative Approach

Solution-focused hypnotherapy is a type of therapy that can help people manage stress and improve memory. It is a safe and effective approach that focuses on helping you identify your strengths and resources to develop positive coping mechanisms that suit you as an individual.

You’re unique after all, and deserve a therapy that incorporates this into your sessions.

Hypnotherapy uses hypnosis, a time when you achieve a state of intense absorption, which is similar to daydreaming or being deeply focused on a task. In this state, you are more open to observing your life without judgement or context, and you can come up with alternatives that can assist you create positive change.

Hypnotherapy can also help improve cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to think creatively and adapt to new situations.

Additionally, hypnotherapy can help reduce the effects of the fight-or-flight response which can impair memory and focus, and regular efforts in this area can leave you with a calm and considered approach throughout your day-to-day.

 

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Conclusion

Stress can significantly impact working memory, but there are steps you can take to improve your memory and manage stress.

Self-care practices, such as getting enough sleep and putting in a little exercise, can be helpful.

If you’re struggling to cope on your own, consider seeking professional help from a therapist or explore approaches like solution-focused hypnotherapy.

Remember, you are not alone.

Help is available and progress and improvement is most certainly possible, and if you can couple it with some self-care, it’s more than probable.

 


 

Sources:

https://www.aru.ac.uk/news/new-study-shows-benefits-of-reliving-past-events].

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627314008484

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31482135/)].

 

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