You have been preparing for this test for weeks and you got up early this morning to make sure that you had remembered everything. A lot hangs on this test – your promotion, for one. You can feel the tension rising but say to yourself, “It’s just exam nerves – it’s good stress”, right? Then, when you look at the first question one that you’ve been expecting, your brain goes blank, the words don’t make sense, and you can’t remember a single fact to write down.
Your first instinct is to get up and run right out of the exam room. When this happens, you are experiencing the “fight or flight response” that every human being has in cases of impending danger.
‘Fight or flight’ is an innate response and it’s a great instinct in its right place. When Fight or Flight kicks in, though, the brain slows down so that it can concentrate on protecting you. If you try to remember something when Fight or Flight is operating, you’ll forget – that’s why stress can cause memory loss.
Stress isn’t always a bad thing – we can all do with energy surges now and then.
In Fight or Flight, for instance, your body automatically starts a chain of reactions. Stress hormones such as cortisol, secreted by the brain, provide energy to our limbs so that we can run away immediately. At the same time, though, the hippocampus is robbed of its energy; if this goes on for a long time, then there are chances of short-term memory loss, because the hippocampus is vital in processing memory.
Repeated exposure to stress of the hippocampus can cause long-term damage and more permanent memory loss. So, it is important to get stress under control.
Can continuous stress cause memory loss? Yes, it can.
If you are forgetting more often, panicking about deadlines and too many unfinished tasks, then you must do something about it today. Stress can become a chronic ailment and you will suffer memory loss.
So, what can you do to contain stress?
1. Monitor how your body and brain are being affected by stress every day. It is important that you take this seriously in order to avoid irreparable damage. Make a note of times you feel particularly pushed; jot down how you are feeling and what you are doing. What are you eating? What are you drinking?
2. Make a list of tasks to be done and create a timeline. If you know that some deadlines you have agreed to cannot be done in the time, contact the recipient now and renegotiate. Take control, relieve the pressure and begin working in a planned, sensible way.
3. Organize your life so that you can work under normal conditions without undue stress. Enjoy your tasks and regain your life.
4. Be in control of the way you eat, exercise, plan and respond – think about your reactions consciously until you feel you life is back on track.
Stress related memory loss diseases include Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other related illnesses that can cause brain trauma. So take action NOW.
Gillian Eadie, M.Ed, BA, Dip.Tchg, LTCL and Churchill Fellow is CEO of the Brain and Memory Foundation. She’s an experienced educator who is committed to ensuring that baby boomers have all the information and knowledge they need about memory and the brain. “Too many of my friends have parents and relatives who are suffering the consequences of memory loss. It is a tragedy to see people losing their jobs, losing interest and unable to manage their own lives. This does not have to happen to you! The research of Dr. Allison Lamont, PhD, and others, has shown that brain regrowth occurs at any age. All you need to know, is HOW.”