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. 

How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

The dynamic lifestyle of today has contributed towards disrupted sleeping patterns and sleepless nights. According to the CDC, about 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep. Whether it is improper sleep or complete insomnia, sleep deprivation is a common problem and is growing with time. Many people think that sleeping pills can help them get a good night’s sleep. However, sleeping pills only work when you take them, and they induce long-term effects that include an inability to sleep without them.

While a small percentage of people may need sleeping pills, most people can get better sleep without it. Certain tips and lifestyle choices can help you gain control of your sleep. Here’s our take on how you can enjoy a better night’s sleep without any medications. 

Align with your Body’s Natural Sleep-Wake Cycle 

Circadian rhythm is a natural process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. It is also referred to as the body’s biological clock because it sets the time you sleep and wake-up. Sure, it sounds easy enough, but many lifestyle choices can easily disrupt this cycle.

To get a better night’s sleep, it is important to sync your body with its circadian rhythm. There are certain ways you can do that.

Try going to bed and waking up at the same time

To begin with, set a proper time to sleep and wake up every day. It won’t be too easy at first. Your body will take some time to get used to it. While setting your schedule, don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t expect that you will go to bed early and wake up early in the morning. Set timings that are practical and easy for you to follow. This will gradually help your body’s internal clock to set.

Avoid sleeping in on weekends

The more your weekday-weekend sleep schedule differs, the harder it is for your body to maintain sleep quality. If you wake up too late on the weekends, your body may experience jet-lag like symptoms. An inconsistent sleep schedule, even on just two days of the week, can disturb your entire sleep cycle. 

If you need to make up for a late night, take a daytime nap instead of sleeping in.  This way, you can pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your sleep schedule.

Fight after-dinner sleepiness

If you get sleepy way before your bedtime, engage in some stimulating activity.  Don’t be a couch potato while being glued to the screen. Wash the dishes, write a daily journal, or call a friend. Do anything that keeps you awake other than screen time. If you give in sleepiness, you may wake up sooner than your set wake-up time and then have trouble falling asleep again.

Control your Light Exposure 

The light exposure you get is a major factor that impacts your body’s circadian clock. Certain hormones are produced due to the working of the circadian clock. Melatonin is an important hormone that is controlled by light exposure. The brain secrets this hormone when it’s dark, which makes you sleepy. Here is what you can do to control your light exposure for a good night’s sleep.

During Day 

The daylight suppresses the melatonin. This is why it is recommended to spend some time out in the daylight. 

Try to expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. You can have your coffee or have your breakfast by the sunny window. It is good. You can take your work breaks outside in the sun.

During Night

As much as it is good to expose yourself to light during the day, you must limit light exposure at night. Now, it doesn’t mean that you sit in a dimly lit room after the sun sets. At night time, you have to limit the exposure of artificial light. 

Exposing yourself to blue light from screens has long-term harmful effects. Most importantly, it messes up your biological clock and causes the slow production of melatonin. Do the following to limit your night time’s light time exposure.

  • Apply a blue light filter on your mobile, laptop, or any other device you use. You can install apps that filter the blue light from the screen. If you have to work on a computer or laptop for long stretches of time, get computer glasses. These effectively block blue light from entering your eyes.
  • Avoid watching TV at night. Not only does light from a TV screen suppress melatonin, but most TV content is also stimulating. Instead, read a book or listen to music, an audiobook, or a podcast.
  • Keep the room dark when it’s time to sleep. Use heavy curtains to ensure no light comes from the outside.

Tips to Get Back to Sleep

It is normal to wake up briefly during the night. But if you have trouble falling asleep again, it can cause a lack of sleep. But don’t worry, as you can use these tips to fall back asleep.

Don’t think about it too much

The first thing to do is avoid stressing over your inability to sleep again. The stress will only cause your body to stay awake and will make you more tired. What you can do is focus on the feelings in your body. Take deep breaths and clear your mind of any anxiety-provoking thoughts.

Do a non-stimulating activity

If you have been awake for more than 15 minutes, you can try a quiet and non-stimulating activity. The best you can do is read a book. Avoid exposing yourself to a screen and keep the lights dimmed, so you don’t get your body to stay awake.

Avoid worrying and brainstorming

It may happen that you wake up in the middle of the night and feel nervous. This may be due to an important meeting or an exam for the next day. Or, it can even be trivial, like what you are planning to cook the next day. 

If this happens, get up and make a brief note on it on paper. This way, you will postpone worrying about the problem and put it off to tomorrow. Making a note won’t necessarily resolve your problem. But during the night, it will help you put off worrying about any problem or task.

If a great idea is keeping you awake, do the same. Make a note of it and go back to sleep. It will be easier for you to fall asleep knowing that you will be much productive after a good night’s sleep.