They say too much stress is bad for your health, but did you know that too much stress can also affect your memory and brain health?
Stress can play a big part when it comes to being forgetful and having memory slips. If you are under constant stress, you may experience symptoms such as memory problems and loss of concentration. You may also be affected by headaches, fatigue, difficulty with sleeping or recurrent nightmares, irritability, backaches or rapid heartbeat.
Stress is your body’s physical reaction to change, and involves the “fight or flight” response activated by your autonomic nervous system. This controls and stimulates the production of two hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones make the heart beat faster, elevate blood pressure, change the digestive processes and boost glucose levels in the blood stream to give you the energy needed to “fight or flee”. When the possible threat has passed, your body system slowly returns to normal.
How does this affect your memory or brain? When we are stressed and produce the stress hormone cortisol, thousands of neurons (brain cells) can die off. When we are highly stressed, we seem to think less clearly and tend to forget even simple things.
Excess cortisol causes a decline in the day-to-day function of your brain. Cortisol robs the brain of its only source of fuel — glucose. It also wreaks havoc on your brain’s chemical messengers — your neurotransmitters — which carry your thoughts from one brain cell to the next. When your neurotransmitter function is disrupted and when your brain’s fuel supply plummets, it’s difficult for you to concentrate and to remember.
Many scientists now believe that excessive exposure to stress can actually shrink your brain. People involved in stressful occupations or occupations that alter sleep patterns or disturb sleep are at particular risk of suffering from excessive levels of cortisol.
Cortisol levels can be raised by everyday situations and habits such as commuting, sleep deprivation and coffee consumption.
The solution is you must realise that you can’t always control what happens to you but you can usually control how you react to it. It is very important to be aware of because it can enable you to keep stressors from becoming stress.
If you want to stay free of chronic stress, you have to be in control of your own life, on a daily basis. You can lower your stress response with deep, abdominal breathing two to three times daily. You could also schedule some time in your day to do a daily relaxation activity such as meditation.
Another way to relieve stress is physical exercise such as walking. It will also boost your mood, increase your energy and improve your memory.
So to control your stress levels you need to pay attention to your diet, exercise, the people you socialise with, the way you think and your level of mental activity. ☐