July 28, 2010
Have you ever been on a job interview and wanted so much to come across well you but forgot half the things you meant to say? Have you ever had such a hard day at work that you had no idea where you left your car keys after you came home? If you're like most of us, memory lapses are common during periods of great stress. So it shouldn't be too surprising to learn that scientists are finding out that stress really does play a role in the brain's ability to remember.
During times of stress, the body releases hormones to help us deal with what it thinks is an emergency. The hormones raise our heart rate, our blood pressure, and our breathing and are helpful to us in dealing with a real emergency. However, when stress is something we feel on a long-term basis as a regular part of our lives, our bodies continue to be flooded with high levels of stress-related hormones such as cortisol. This is one of the chemicals that can have a negative effect on our health and our memory.
Scientists have found that stress affects the area of our brain called the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is involved in learning and memory. It also affects how that information can be used to do things like make decisions. Other studies have shown that people with continuously high levels of cortisol perform poorly on memory tests.
The more we learn about the effects of stress on our brain and our overall health, the more we understand how important it is to take steps to control the stress we find in our lives.