Stress, Memory, and the Brain

A common characteristic of stress is forgetfulness and disorientation. Most people accept that bouts with anxiety or worry will result in diminished cognitive returns. However, many do not realize that chronic stress can affect memory and cognitive health.

According to medical research on people and animals, there is a direct correlation between stress and brain function, particularly with how the brain processes information. Whether real-life stress or manufactured stress in a lab setting, the research demonstrates how stress interferes with attention, cognition, and memory.

Studies also show a correlation between stress, emotional states, and inflammation. The effects of stress are both psychological and physical, and it is common for chronic sufferers to experience health problems, including brain and heart diseases.

The Brain and Stress

Before you can understand the effects of stress on thinking and memory, you must acknowledge some of the fundamental processes of the brain. The brain compromises several parts that perform individual tasks and operate as a whole. Therefore the brain is not a single unit. The general understanding from this singular observation is when one part of the brain takes center stage; the other parts give up some of their collective energy to focus on the primary task.

When in a dangerous, stressful, or emotionally taxing situation, the amygdala, or survival guru of the brain, takes over. The other parts of the brain tasked with memory and higher-order tasks receive less energy, meaning they are less capable at the moment. Many scientists speculate survival mode is the reason people can become more forgetful when under stress, possibly experiencing memory lapses depending on the trauma of the event.

Stress and Long-Term Brain Changes

Chronic stress can rewire the brain over time. During the study of animals, scientists noticed a measurable decline in the activity of the prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain responsible for higher-order tasks. The results were the opposite for the amygdala and the parts of the brain responsible for survival.

Scientists liken the changes to exercise. A person should expect the muscle groups they focus on to develop more than those they don't. The same happens for someone experiencing chronic stress. The parts of the brain getting the most focus are those associated with survival; therefore, these areas develop while areas tasked with complex reasoning and thought take a backseat.

Differences in Stress Types

You cannot dispute the effect of stress on the brain because it is well-documented. However, determining the type of stress that leads to damage or memory problems is not as clear.

Stress is broadly defined and typically accounts for all variables of the term. Using too broad a definition is problematic because the circumstances surrounding occurrences of stress can vary greatly. For instance, anxiety before an exam is short-lived, and most scientists hypothesize it will not lead to problems later, but the trauma of a car accident can have lasting psychological and physical injuries.

Stress Management Is Necessary for Reduced Risks

The one constant throughout leading research is stress' adverse effects. The best thing people can do to reduce the potential risks of long-term or chronic stress is to find ways to mitigate it.

Mindfulness, meditation, and exercise are all potential remedies for stress. While most people struggle to find personal time in today's 24/7 world, you need to find moments for personal care, even if it is just five minutes of quiet in your office chair.

What are your favorite ways to destress? Comment below.

Adaptogens: The Secret to Amazing Stress Relief

Stress is frustrating. The last time I went to my doctor for a checkup, she told me that my blood pressure was too high and my waist weight was creeping up again. That was a shock because I eat healthy meals with fresh veggies, avoid salt and go for a walk every day.

“Have you been stressed lately?” she asked. I just looked at her. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been feeling stressed the last few years. I never imagined it could cause so many problems with my healthy lifestyle.

The bigger surprise was what the doctor told me afterward: “I want you to try taking adaptogens for a couple of months.” I had never even heard of adaptogens before!

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are plant compounds that naturally lower anxiety. These herbs make you more resistant to the effects of stress hormones. They reduce anxiety and all the negative effects that come along with it.

How Does Stress Affect Your Body?

Cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, gets your heart racing at the drop of a hat. This can trigger countless issues:

  • Physical symptoms: Low energy levels, headaches, high blood pressure, chest pain, digestive problems, weakened immune system, weight gain, physical pain and inflammation
  • Emotional symptoms: Sadness, depression, panic attacks, lack of desire to see other people and no enjoyment from things you used to like
  • Mental symptoms: Lack of motivation, mental exhaustion, concentration problems (brain fog), trouble sleeping, irritability

How Do Adaptogens Work?

When stress hormones are too high, you feel anxiety rushing in. The effect is even worse when you have low levels of “happy” hormones that should create feelings of calm. Adaptogens alleviate stress by lowering negative hormones and boosting positive brain chemicals. They keep your body’s systems in balance.

What Are the Benefits of Adaptogens?

With the help of adaptogens — plus good habits such as exercise and sleep — you can turn the tables on anxiety:

  • Higher energy levels
  • Fewer sad days or panic attacks
  • Increased positive feelings
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved mental focus and endurance
  • Better physical stamina
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Less weight gain

What Are the Best Adaptogens for Your Mood?

If you’ve ever relaxed with a cup of licorice root tea and your favorite book, adaptogens have already helped you with stress relief. Here are my favorites:

  • Ashwagandha: Promotes feelings of overall wellbeing and happiness
  • Rhodiola rosea: Helps with tiredness and mental fatigue
  • Cordyceps: Increases physical stamina
  • Licorice root: Promotes calm and relaxation
  • Siberian ginseng: Boosts energy levels
  • Holy basil: Lowers stress, anxiety and depression
  • Turmeric: Increases mental focus, alleviates stress and fights inflammation
  • Astragalus root: Helps with physical, mental and emotional stress

That’s all there is to it — healthy, natural herbs that alleviate anxiety. Personally, I prefer taking these adaptogens in a stress-fighting supplement because it helps me get the right amount of every day. Other people sip teas made with these herbs when under a lot of stress.

No plant can change the way you look at stressful events, but adaptogens can keep your body from going into red-alert mode constantly. That way, you worry less about things that aren’t a big deal. And when truly stressful events happen, you can stay in control and find a solution instead of “losing it.”