Can stress affect my memory?

Animals Therapy for Stress

What is Stress?

 It is clear, we are stressed. In 2019, a poll found that over 55% of Americans reported experiencing stress frequently during their day and the effects of stress can be quite impactful. Stress not only affects adults but also high school students and children. 

The body’s response

Research shows that stress increases the activity in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, causing a release of corticosteroids in the adrenal cortex. The adrenal cortex is the gland in the human body that helps your body with many things including its response to stress. The symptoms of stress range from anger, fatigue, anxiety, depression, upset stomach, tension, weight changes, heart disease, diabetes, and forgetfulness. 

Personality, Age, and Gender

However, in terms of predicting a stress response, evidence points to three factors that may predict who could be impacted greater. The three factors are a number of personality traits, gender, and age. It is important in evaluating each individual to consider the other factors that may have a role in the overall response. Who is at most risk for high rates of stress? Women, minorities, single parents, and family caregivers are found to be those at most risk.

One thing is clear, stress does impact memory, in both humans and animals.

Types of Stress

What is Acute Stress?

Acute stress is what most would call a typical stress event i.e.; running late to an important meeting, getting stuck in bad weather, etc.

What is Chronic Stress?

Typically, stress lasts for a short period of time, however, if our body does not find reprieve after some time and our stress response is still activated, this can lead to Chronic Stress. Chronic stress can greatly impact health. When stress hormones are released over a prolonged period of time, it can cause high blood pressure, type II diabetes, anxiety, and depression.

The Journal of Neuroscience published research studying the effect of chronic stress and memory loss in mice. What they found was quite revealing. During the study, the mice were repeatedly put into stressful confrontations, within 28 days the mice displayed obvious signs of depressive behavior. When they looked closer, they discovered changes in the brains of the mice indicating that the brain had become inflamed because of the way the immune system had reacted to the stress.

How does stress affect memory?

Stress and memory retrieval

Have you ever found yourself having trouble remembering certain things when you are under stress? Researches have studied this question and have found interesting results. In one study, researchers found that stress did indeed affect memory in participants. Specifically, they found that stress impacted declarative memory by temporarily blocking memory retrieval. 

Stress and Learning

Interestingly enough, stress also impacts our ability to learn. In one study, forty-eight participants were put in a stressful situation while they learned words. They found that those who were placed in a stressful situation had more difficulty with recall and recognition than those who were in the control group.

Ways to reduce stress

Get your sleep

Sleep is your body’s reset button. Research shows that those who sleep less than eight hours per night are more likely to feel angry, overwhelmed, lack energy, lose patience, skip exercise, and feel an overall increase in stress than individuals that get at least 8 hours of sleep per night.

Ask for help

It is okay to ask for help if you are struggling. You can reach out to a family member or a friend. If that isn’t possible, visit your GP for a check-up, or locate local mental health professional. For guidance in the United States, NAMI is a great resource.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Try progressive muscle relaxation. This breathing technique can help reduce stress, muscle tension, and anxiety. To get started, breathe in and tense a muscle group for about 10 seconds (clench your hands for example) when you breathe out, completely relax that muscle group. Wait another 10 seconds before you move to your next muscle group. Hot tip, if you are having trouble sleeping at night, try this while you are laying in bed working through all the muscle groups! For more information and directions.

Move your body

The consensus is, exercise is good for stress. But why? And how does it work? When we exercise our body releases chemicals and hormones, the same way it does when we are stressed. However, the chemicals that are released when exercising are considered our body’s natural way of killing pain. We call these endorphins and they are responsible for what people call a “runners high.”

Hang with a pet

A favorite and fun way to reduce stress is to spend time with your furry and feathered friends. Studies confirm that when humans spend time with animals they benefit from a reduction in the stress-related hormone, cortisol.  Don’t have a pet? Try your local shelter and volunteer as a companion. 

Workplace Ergonomics? Kyphosis and iHunch, a pain in the back

Do you use your computer for more than 4 hours a day? If so, you may be one of the 80% of computer users that report experiencing back pain. 

Kyphosis, also known as iHunch

It may sound like something out of DC comic book and although it may not deprive Superman or Superwoman of their superpowers, it definitely is a pain in the back, and that can be worse than the power of kryptonite

Kyphosis, or you may be more familiar with the term iHunch, is when the spine becomes bowed, causing a curve in the upper back and ribcage portion of the spine, below the neck. The forward curvature of the spine caused by Kyphosis may triggers a reverse curvature response in the low back and the neck.

How is this different from Scoliosis?

While Kyphosis and Scoliosis are both conditions that are characterized by the curvature of the spine. With Kyphosis the curvature of the spine is forward, causing a hunched posture. With Scoliosis, the spine is affected by a sideways curvature, typically occurring during growth spurts and most frequently diagnosed in children.

Kyphosis: who, what, and when?

Kyphosis is most commonly occurs among adults. It can happen as a result of the degeneration of the spine. Degeneration or Degenerative Disc Disease is characterized by age-related changes in your spine. The prominence of Kyphosis in the elderly population ranges from 20% to 40% in men and women but is more commonly observed in females. Healthy spines naturally have a curve ranging from 20 to 40 degrees. A curve over 40 degrees is considered abnormal and a curve of 70 degrees and higher is considered severe and surgery may be recommended to treat the curve.

In young people who experience Kyphosis, a thoracic curve greater than 40 degrees, may be caused by Scheuermann disease, which is characterized by abnormal spinal growth often also found with Scoliosis. Depending on the severity of Scheuermann disease, physicians may recommend a reduction of load-bearing stress and other lifestyle changes. In more severe cases, Scheuermann disease may be treated with therapeutic braces, physical therapy, and in extreme cases, surgical intervention.

Individuals who have Kyphosis or iHunch may visually appear to have a hunched back, they may suffer from back pain, experience fatigue, and have trouble standing for long periods of time. They may also appear to lose height as a result of the curvature. In severe cases, individuals may experience a loss of appeitite and shortness of breath. 

Causes of Kyphosis can be attributed to arthritis, spinal injuries, bad spinal surgical outcomes, slipped discs, children who suffer from vitamin deficiencies, osteoporosis, and poor posture. Although poor posture can be attributed to Kyphosis or iHunch, the good news is that it does not indicate any structural problems with the spine, and can be treated with ergonomic intervention. 

The case for Physical Therapy and exercise

Research shows that strong back muscles and a strong core can help counteract the effects of Kyphosis. By strengthening the muscles in our backs, we can counteract the forward pull of the spine by pulling it back and reducing the inward angle

In a study of a group of women between the ages of 50 and 59, they found that over a year, exercise reduced the progression of Kyphosis.

Preventing iHunch, Workplace Ergonomics

In 1971, The Occupational Health and Safety Administration was created by the US congress to ensure workplace safety. Most commonly referred to as OSHA, the administration works to ensure the safety and health among workers in the United States by various methods.

OSHA does not mandate that employers are responsible for ensuring proper ergonomics for their employees, they do, however, cover employees with injuries caused by poor ergonomics under Musculoskeletal Disorders for workplace injuries. OSHA, also, has researched and provided industry-specific guidelines for workplace ergonomics.

For those employees who work from home,  Ergonomics, the science of how people work in their environment, can help you find the perfect fit for your working environment. iHunch, another term for Kyphosis, earned its nickname from those who frequently experience poor posture when viewing their technology. 

Quick Posture Tips

How can you prevent or stop this harmful behavior? Here are a few quick tips:

  • Don’t slouch, sit upright. Slouching in a chair can result in pain and tension in your muscles.
  • Don’t lean your head forward or down when texting or working on your computer. 
  • Stand straight, imagine your body in perfect alignment. 
  • Distribute your weight evenly on both legs.

For a deeper dive into making adjustments, the Mayo Clinic provides a helpful guide on how to makeover your home working environment to help you feel comfortable, prevent pain caused by poor ergonomics and keep your spine healthy.

And remember this content is not a substitute for professional advice from a physician or health care provider. Never attempt to treat yourself without advice or guidance from a professional. 

Happy and healthy working!