Loss of Memory Due to Stressful Situations

Stress can cause memory loss

Did you know that loss of memory due to stressful situations generally continues to worsen if steps are not taken to reduce stress levels?

Stressful Situations

In today's fast paced world almost everyone faces stressful situations each day. Whether you are rushing to get the kids ready for school before heading out for your morning commute in rush hour traffic, working long hours to meet a deadline at work, or caring for an elderly ill parent, stress is part of your life. Whether you are at work, at home or at school, driving your car or waiting in line to pay for your groceries, the situation can become stressful in the blink of an eye.

As the days and weeks of stress and stressful situations continues, every part of your body is affected. When you are under constant stress, or chronic stress, your body is not able to relax and get relief. It remains in a state of continual fight or flight response causing automatic physiological responses to the stress.

How Stress Affects Memory

When stressful situations cause chronic stress, the levels of stress hormones in the brain become elevated. The elevated hormonal levels can cause damage to brain cells and also impair the brain from forming new memories. In addition, the central nervous system becomes affected which is a significant factor leading to severe memory loss.

However, if the stress is intermittent or acute, memory loss is usually short term. Once the stressful situation has been relieved, a person's memory generally improves.

The Stress Hormone: Cortisol

The adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys, secrete four of the body's major stress hormones:

  • Cortisol
  • Norepinephrine
  • Adrenaline
  • DHEA

When chronic stress causes prolonged elevated levels of cortisol in the brain, it has a direct effect on the area of the brain called the hippocampus which is associated with learning and memory and often referred to as the center of memory. Over time the hippocampus begins to atrophy or shrink. The shrinkage occurs as the nerve fibers, called dendrites, in the hippocampus waste away from the presence of the stress hormones, neurotransmitters and glucocorticoids.

Critical Incident Amnesia

Critical incident amnesia is another type of loss of memory due to stressful situations. According to an article in "The Firearms Instructor: The Official Journal of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors" this type of memory loss affects those that are in extreme survival stress situations.

Police officers and other law enforcement officials have to have an appropriate and instantaneous response to situations that are stressful and traumatic. The officers then must remember and report the incident accurately as it occurred. Typically, these traumatic and stressful situations result in the officer having memory difficulties and they are not able to transfer the incident into their long term memory right away. This is known as critical incident amnesia. In most cases, after a good night's sleep, the officer is able to remember all, or almost all, of the incident that occurred.

This type of memory loss can also affects victims and witnesses.

How to Reduce the Chance of Loss of Memory Due to Stressful Situations

Reducing the amount of stress in your life will give your body the time it needs to relax. Learning stress management and relaxation techniques will reduce your stress levels. However, it is also important to:

  • Identify and understand the causes of your stress.
  • Make choices to reduce, eliminate or neutralize stress and stressful situations from your life.

Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques

There are many different types of relaxation and stress management techniques. Not every method works for every person. You may need to try a few to find the one you like best. Learning several different methods gives you even more control over your stress. For instance, you may love practicing transcendental meditation, but it may be much more feasible to do deep breathing exercises at your desk or while stuck in rush hour traffic.The following are examples of stress management and relaxation techniques:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Guided imagery
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Passive muscle relaxation
  • Visualization
  • Yoga

Following a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep and regular exercise are all important factors in reducing your stress levels. Take time to relax:

  • Enjoy listening to soft soothing music
  • Color a mandala
  • Take a walk
  • Get a massage
  • Play a game
  • Take a ride in the country
Loss of Memory Due to Stressful Situations