You may know about how stress can affect your body – making it difficult to sleep so you’re groggy during the day, depression, anxiety and inability to focus on work and other tasks. Your memory can also be highly affected by chronic or extreme stress. So it's true that stress causes memory loss!
The memory works by processing information we acquire through the pathways of the brain. We can retain and recall experiences and things we’ve learned in the past through the neural pathways. This is why stress and memory loss are often linked.
Short-term memory (working memory) is what we notice or think of first when we’re reading or memorizing something. Then, it’s processed into the long-term memory – if conditions are healthy in your brain and there is no additional loss. Here are the three stages that information goes through before it’s processed into the long-term memory:
- Encoding – Encoding happens when you listen or observe something. You must move on to the next two stages for it to stay in your memory and minimize the loss of information.
- Consolidation – Much like you would burn a CD, consolidated information becomes burned into your memory so you can move on to the next stage.
- Retrieval – The part of your brain which allows you to recall the information you encoded and consolidated with minimum loss.
Stress may interfere with either or all of these memory processing stages and cause memory loss due to stress in the following ways:
Interference – Stress can interfere with any of the above processes by distracting what you’re trying to remember. For example, if you’ve just memorized some important information and then experience a stressful situation, you’re not likely to remember the data you were trying to process before the stress kicked in.
Not finishing the process – If you don’t complete all three of the stages to process memories you probably didn’t encode it in the first place. For example, if you forget an important business meeting, you likely just heard the date and time, but didn’t write it down or think of it in ways to remember it and file it in your long-term storage.
Stress hormones – Stress can create stress hormones that may prevent passage of memories through the neural pathways. These hormones interfere with the chemical balance of your brain and can introduce loss of memories and greatly reduce your recall ability.
A certain amount of stress can actually be good for you – especially when it’s involved with emotions. You can probably remember some traumatic event that happened in your life because it was an emotional experience that caused you a lot of stress and your brain recorded every detail.
We’re born with a certain amount of this ingrained ability to store emotional events because of the “fight or flight” stress response we had to develop early on, when survival depended on it. Think about the stress in your own life and how it may be affecting how you recall your memories. Do not allow stress to cause a loss of more important things just for not paying attention.
Why Laughter is the Best For Stress Related Memory Loss
A recent study indicates that laughter can boost your memory, remove harmful effects of stress induced memory loss and also help your overall demeanor. Magnetic resonance shows that when you laugh, your brain lights up just as it would when exercised by a brain-teaser. Exercise is good for your brain and can instantly improve your mood, reduce loss of information, mask pain and even make for better relationships.
Many consider humor and laughter a silly diversion from stress and life problems in general, but in fact the neuro-psychological benefits are astounding. When you hear the end of a joke or struggle to get a punchline in an anecdote, your brain gets a huge workout.
When you laugh, a chemical reaction takes place in your brain which helps your entire makeup. Here are a few benefits of laughter:
Boosts immunity – Your immune system can greatly benefit from laughter, which can be suppressed from stress and pain and cause further effects of memory loss due to this stress.
Reduces stress and pain – The chemical reaction from laughter is directly connected to the nucleus accumbens in the brain. This area of the brain releases dopamine which is a natural opiate.
Bonding with others – Developing relationships is an important part of keeping a healthy brain. Laughter can repel anger and promotes reconciliation and is said to be one of the most desired traits in a life partner.
Studies performed with groups watching a funny movie indicated more improvement in memory recall, cognitive functions, reduction in stress related memory loss and ability to learn compared with other groups who didn’t watch the movie.
Diabetics, especially, benefited from laughter because it cuts down on the harmful hormone of cortisol and boosted memory scores. Cortisol may also decrease the hippocampal neurons which make up the memory portion of the brain and increases the flow of blood and boosts your mood. All of these factors contribute to drastically reduced memory loss due to stress as well.
The increase of dopamine and endorphins in the brain when you laugh can provide pleasure and sense of accomplishment (see additional information related to endorphin). Laughter also promotes neurochemical brain changes which increase the memory enhancement – gamma wave band frequency.
Try and add some elements of laughter to your life each day and use humour to deflect negative thoughts from entering your mind. Before you settle down to sleep at night, watch a funny show or ready a funny book to get your evening of rest off to a good start.
Recent studies have been so positive in the use of laughter to improve memory and overall health of the elderly that humour may be incorporated in wellness programs designed for senior citizens.
All of your worries and stress induced memory loss may not simply melt away with adding more laughter in your life, but try it for a while. It’s definitely true that “laughter may improve memory and quality of life.” So even though stress and memory loss could go hand in hand – use any tool you have available to reduce the effects of stress!