How Stress Effects Memory?

Pratap was seated at a restaurant with his family discussing the movie they had just seen. “His acting was amazing,” Pratap’s daughter said. His son and wife agreed emphatically.

“My favorite part of the movie was when that guy…what was his name? The one with the mustache? What was his name?”

“Dad we just saw the movie like 10 minutes ago!” his son teased Pratap.

He sighed and said, “This is what’s called a senior moment.”


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“What?” his wife said incredulously. “You are 48 years old. This is not a senior moment.” They all laughed and his daughter added, “Ya dad. This is called a spaz moment.”

Ruchi felt her head was spinning in countless directions. She was swamped with studying for tests, working on college applications and keeping up with her volunteer responsibilities. From the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to sleep every minute of her day is accounted for.

Despite being busy, Ruchi had always been a responsible teen so it came as surprise when she came running down one evening and said, “Mom! I forgot to buy Sami’s birthday gift!” Her eyes were bulging out of her head in panic.

“It’s ok you’ve been busy. We can still get it. When is her birthday party?”  her mother asked.

“Tomorrow morning!” Ruchi shrieked. “I can’t believe I forgot my best friend’s birthday party!”

We can blame memory lapses on being busy or getting older, but research has shown the most common cause of memory problems is how stress effects memory.

When we are stressed, our body pumps out stress hormones to keep up with the increased demands of life. These stress hormones affect the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for executive functions such as decision making, short-term memory, mental flexibility and attention.


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When experienced in short bursts, such effects on the brain are not detrimental. However, current research is looking at the long term effects of chronic stress (how stress effects memory), something that plague countless South Asians of a variety of ages.

Researchers at SUNY, Buffalo found that repeated stressful events corresponded with a loss of specific receptors in the brain that are necessary for cognitive processes such as working memory and mental flexibility, etc. The researchers concluded that chronic stress has a direct impact on abnormal functioning of the prefrontal cortex.

Other research has identified a strong link between stress hormones and the hippocampus, a structure in the brain responsible for long-term memories. Chronic stress has been shown to actually damage pats of the brain. Specifically, people under chronic stress show a smaller hippocampus than people who are not under chronic stress. These changes make it more difficult to access old memories and to form new memories affecting how we learn new skills -> stress effects memory.

These findings are particularly important for teens since their brains are the most sensitive to high levels of stress. Teenage years are the time of most risk for developing emotional disorders and experiencing chronic stress can significantly increase that risk by permanently changing brain structures.

The next time you find yourself “spacing out”, having a “spaz” or “senior” moment, try to take inventory of your life and realize stress effects memory -> this is your brain’s way of warning you that you are under too much stress. Follow these tips to reduce stress and improve your overall health.


What do you think?

How do you think stress effects memory? Share your thoughts and experiences regarding how stress effect memory in the comments below.


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Article Contributor: MySahana, meaning my “patience” or “fortitude” in Sanskrit, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading awareness about mental health issues as they pertain to the South Asian community.

By providing culturally-sensitive and relevant information, we aim to correct misinformation, remove stigma and begin a dialogue about mental health and healthy living. We believe it is from these dialogues that South Asians will feel more comfortable seeking services and making the necessary changes to live a healthier life.

For more information, please visit our website at, follow us @MySahana on Twitter and connect with us on Facebook.