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Is Stress Hijacking Your Memory?


Everyone has those moments when you suddenly realize you forgot an appointment, or you’re at a loss for someone’s name but still need to introduce them, or your friends are talking about something that happened years ago, and you have no memory of even being there. 

These memory failures are a part of life for everyone, and there can be many causes. Age-related memory issues are the most well-known memory problems, and they’re what most people fear. Just like these three memory concerns are different, they’re also not the only reason for having memory difficulties. Your mental health, stress levels, and general mood play a significant role in memory.

How Stress Affects Memory

This is not a simple topic, and there’s no one answer for every person. In fact, the connection between your memory and your mood has many layers. You can be more affected by one particular layer than someone else, and you may find the memory problems are also slightly different. Understanding all of the known mechanisms at work can help you manage your memory concerns.

So, how do mental health and memory work together? When you’re suffering from serious stress, your brain is basically hijacked by negative thoughts and emotions. They take over and pull your focus off work and life. These feelings also make it difficult for your brain to register or encode information into memories. 

A study looking at mental health found significant working memory deficits during  episodes of severe negative emotions. The inability to make memories easily correlates to the day-to-day memory and concentration issues reported by people going through a rough time or who chronically struggle with these issues.

Separating negative thoughts from stress gives an even deeper insight into memory problems. People with mental health issues can feel a lack of energy, fatigue, and decreased motivation. These feelings play into how the brain processes information into memories and can thwart attempts to make new memories. This results in short-term memory loss.

Stress, on the other hand, puts the brain in an overstimulated situation and makes it more difficult to recall memories from further in their past. An interesting theory in a study on episodic memories and stress disorders also found that these patients tended to prefer or focus on memories that supported their beliefs and are more biased to their inner, anxious thoughts. 

Memory Consolidation

If that isn’t enough, there’s another factor at play. The actual act of taking a memory of a past event, and transferring it to a stored memory in the brain doesn’t happen immediately, and it typically occurs during sleep. 

In fact, this memory consolidation happens during a very specific part of sleep, just before REM sleep when there is slow-wave activity going on in the brain. During negative mental health episodes, sleep problems are common complaints. 

It’s also been found that the time before REM sleep lessens for people with mental illness, meaning they have less time to perform imperative memory consolidating activities.

It’s a lot to take in. But finding that your memory issues are related to identifiable causes can sometimes make it more manageable than other memory loss concerns.

How to Boost Memory During Mood Disorders

If your mood is messing with your memory, there are things you can do. If you’re experiencing this now, or if you’ve noticed it in the past, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. 

Peacfully sleeping young man

Medication may be an option for some, but it isn’t always the solution. Knowing your options and having an expert on your side makes it easier to combat stress and memory problems.

Other ways you can work to improve your memory during mood issues include:

♦ Discovering ways to manage stress

♦ Controlling what you can in your life, to feel a sense of power

♦ Healthy routines that can help you stay on track

♦ Eating a diet that supports mental health

♦ Using the ZenWell supplement to boost energy and combat stress

♦ Working to eliminate triggers, or develop techniques for reacting

♦ Using memory aids or tricks

♦ Making sure you’re aiming for at least 8 hours of sleep per night

Tips to Improve Memory Consolidation

Memory consolidation is the transference of an initial memory from the hippocampus into deeper storage in the brain. Over time that memory is also linked to other memories, and there are pathways that can change the memory or augment it. 

While the importance of sleep and long-term memories has been mentioned, there are some other things that help memory consolidation.

♦ Nap. Sleeping doesn’t just have to be nighttime sleep; naps can help, too.

♦ Practice. The more you repeat the information, the stronger the synapses to that memory are.

♦ Say it aloud. This is another method of repeating, but it adds more senses by forming auditory links and verbal links to the memory.

♦ Recall memories. The more you recall your memories, the more likely you are to remember them long into the future. 

Diagnosing Memory Loss

The best way to approach any memory loss is by taking it seriously. While a forgotten name here and there is a part of life, regular forgetting to the point of concern or where it causes interruptions in your life could be more serious. 

Man taking a break at his office

Connecting with a medical professional can help you narrow down your memory concerns and possibly determine the cause. Be as honest as you can about your habits, your physical and mental health, and your memory. Don’t be shy or embarrassed; there might be a solution to your memory concerns that can only be found through an open and honest conversation.

Waking Up to Wellness

Memory is an interesting brain function. It’s not a simple act of learning and remembering, there is a layered approach, and memories can be altered over time. It’s actually quite remarkable how the brain is able to create memories.

When you’re feeling stressed, it simply doesn’t perform its memory duties as well. Along the process there can be a breakdown of function, which causes people with some mental health issues to experience memory problems. This is nothing to be overly worried about or ashamed about–it’s normal and to be expected.

If you determine your memory issues are connected to your mental health, there are some things you can do to help manage stress and reinforce your memories. Even the longer-term memory consolidation process can be boosted.

Medical professionals can also be a big instrument in your path to wellness and managing memory problems. Seek medical help to manage all of your health concerns. You can also follow Live Conscious on Facebook @weliveconscious and Instagram @weliveconscious to learn more about living a healthy life.