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How Stress Messes With Your Memory

  • September 2, 2011
  • 6:01 pm

THE OPTIMAL LEVEL OF STRESS

Somewhere between mellow and meltdown is an anxiety sweet spot that sharpens memory. Find yours.

Research shows that, for women, acute stress can enhance memory. “But we don’t want you to say, ‘Stress is good, so I should seek it out,’ ” says Zhen Yan, Ph.D. “To boost memory, stress needs to be at some kind of an optimal level.” And that optimal level is different for each woman.

So how do you go about sussing out your stress sweet spot? The answer will require some sleuthing.

Keep in mind the inverted U function, in which memory sharpens as stress piles up until it reaches an in-the-zone peak before traveling downhill. That’s the balance you need to gauge for yourself. “If you are giving a speech and can still do it even when you’re having major symptoms–like nausea and loss of appetite–then that’s encouraging, and the anxiety should lessen with practice,” says Margaret Altemus, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. “But if you’re trying to manage multiple tasks at once, such as filling out a form online, giving directions over the phone, and talking to a child, this amount of distraction is stressful and will likely impair your memory. The sweet spot is an optimal level of alertness, without feeling overwhelmed or anxious. That’s the rule to use in finding your stress balance: Look to see if the stress is impairing your functioning, including your job performance and your ability to enjoy life. If it is, try to reduce the stress with lifestyle changes, and if necessary, psychodynamic or cognitive behavioral therapy, or lastly, taking psychiatric medication.”

The great news, she says, is that with this kind of help, the intensity of perceived stress can be reduced. “I wouldn’t advise people to avoid stressful situations because they are worried about their memory performance,” she says. “These situations provide an opportunity to find better ways to cope.”

Related Links:
10 Natural Memory Loss Remedies
7 Kinds of Stress

Read more: Family, General Health, Health, Mental Wellness, Stress, Women's Health, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Rodale

Rodale.com is a new original source for daily news, information, and advice on personal and environmental health. Rodale.com focuses on “Where Health Meets Green” topics, providing daily news stories and breaking news along with easy-to-follow, high-impact tips and advice.

234 comments

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10:58AM PST on Jan 2, 2012

Some people work great under pressure, while others can't function at all.
We have to know ourself, and deal with it how ever necessary.

12:09PM PST on Dec 17, 2011

This really hit home. I've been told that I have chronic depression and have taken meds for it, and I know that events in my life have led to this. I was also told that I have PTSD but could not understand how since I've never been the military or a severe accident etc. But this article talks about trumatic stress and includes a a definition of a threat to one's intergrity, characterized by intense fear and helplessness. I have felt this. This is what happened to me when my supervisior(principal) started focusing on me and picking out anything and every little thing she could and sharing with the staff of the school I was teaching at.( At the time I didn't know sharing part.) She also started giving me not so good yearly evaluations. I had had ALWAYS had real positive evaluations wherever I worked before. I had taught 22 years and was the first in my whole family who went on to college and had a degree. I wasn't SUPER INTELLIGENT but my counselors in high school and college believed that I would make a great teacher, they believed in me. I wasn't perfect but I always felt like I had an understanding, empathy and was very intuitive with children especially. Parents were happy, some really thankful children were in my class. But of course the principal found two sets of parents who 'weren't sure' this one year. Anyway, to make this short, I am a very emotional person I 'feel' everything. With the death of my parents and a stepfather (all of cancer) just a few year

12:42AM PDT on Sep 12, 2011

thanks

8:33PM PDT on Sep 8, 2011

Thanks to Jane Barton for the Green Star.

1:32AM PDT on Sep 7, 2011

I have experienced memory problems since my brother died. Years later I am still struggling with it. Good article. It is good to know someone is looking into it.

9:58AM PDT on Sep 6, 2011

I must be an exception because I have never experienced any form of memory during any kind of stress. My memory takes a leave of absence when I am stressed. I've currently been chronically stressed and my memory is shot.

9:42AM PDT on Sep 6, 2011

I am aware of how bad stress can be on your memory. Work has been stressful as people scramble in fear of being fired they begin to stab one another in the back. Coping with paranoia & going home to a stressful situation has made me notice that I forget to do minor things. I have to meditate & work out more just to cope. Still, it isn't enough to handle it all. I am not just forgetting little things but now my energy is draining.

2:27PM PDT on Sep 5, 2011

I had unbearable stress every day for 13 years while I cared for my husband who was slowly dying of chronic progressive MS. When I tried to talk to a doctor or insurance claim adjuster about this, because I needed help, they would tell me something to the effect and once exactly, "we all have our crosses to bear". Well, he has been gone for 7 years now and I still feel like my brain has been pithed. Thank heavens I left the U.S. and now live in Canada where they have dx'd me as having post traumatic stress syndrome due to what I went through for 13 years. Ironically, the health care system in the U.S. creates so much stress, that this is what happens to people. I still find it unbelievable that the people of the U.S. did not riot and demand a single payer system like Canada's when they could have.....well, they still should. If they don't, they deserve all the stress that it causes.

In summary, they don't need to experiment with animals to see what stress does to people, just talk to long term care-givers in the U.S.

2:25PM PDT on Sep 5, 2011

stress kills period!

1:30PM PDT on Sep 5, 2011

Stress is a mind and body killer. It can I believe cause all kinds of problems...

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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