Can stress cause memory loss and confusion?
Not if you’ve got a gun in your face.
Like Ben Thomas.
Ben was walking through an L.A. neighborhood when he was robbed at gunpoint.
Next day, when the detective asked him to identify the perpetrator, Ben was able to do it very easily.
Over time, however, the author who experienced this violent incident, reported that he “remembered fewer images and more facts: the colors of the thief’s hoodie and pants, the words he’d said, even the exact time displayed on my iPod (12:36) at the moment I’d handed it over to him”.
Why would Ben remember more facts than images?
It’s because some memories formed under highly stressful situations get so strongly encoded in our brains that we never forget them.
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But does that mean you should put yourself under stress to memorize your sales presentation?
The Answer Is A Big NO!
Because, in general, stress impairs memory, makes you forget things or even remember things differently.
Ben, for instance, could recall the thief’s face vividly for a day or two but after a few weeks, he couldn’t picture the guy’s face at all.
And keep in mind that Ben’s no dummy.
He’s not only an author, but also someone who happens to be an independent researcher who studies consciousness and the brain.
High IQ or not…
When we’re stressed, some memories stick like super glue while others get warped or lost.
For that reason, please understand this:
It’s never a good idea to induce stress when trying to memorize a book, your lessons or your campaign presentation.
You never know what essential information your brain will skip remembering!
Instead, increase focus and concentration from the ground up using a WRAP technique:
When Are You Under Stress? A Scientific Definition
This quote is worth reading twice:
“When an organism faces emotional distress or is physically challenged the autonomic nervous system, a subdivision of the sympathetic nervous system, is automatically activated. Once activated, a cascade of physiological changes occurs that better enables an organism to confront (i.e. fight, freeze) or escape (i.e. flee) danger. The term “stress” applies to the condition under which the autonomic nervous system is activated and stress hormones are released.” (Impairing and Enhancing Effects of Psychosocial Stress on Episodic Memory and Eyewitness Report, Siobhan Marie Hoscheidt, 2011)
And guess what?
When you’re frozen, or busy running away, learning gets really tough.
Worse, there’s a part of the brain that controls stress that can really wreak havoc on your focus and concentration.
When you undergo a stressful event, the amygdala – a part of the brain that enables emotional processing – sends a distress call to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is like a command center that communicates with the rest of your body through the nervous system so that you have the energy to fight or flee.
Stress Can Make You Forget Things…
Even If You’re a Memory Champion
Want in on a little secret?
Stress doesn’t discriminate between the regular Joe, a presidential candidate or a memory champ.
It does and will mess with your brain.
Like it did for world memory champion Jonas Von Essen.
When Jonas was called to recite the closing credits of Newsnight from memory, he struggled to remember the presenter Jeremy Paxman’s surname as well as some other names.
If that doesn’t put the spotlights on just how bad stress can be for even the best memory athlete, I don’t know what does.
Even as a memory expert, Jonas felt on the spot and stress was part of his embarrassing flub on TV.
But is it really a fail?
The answer is a bit more complex, so let’s have a look.
How Does Stress Affect Your Memory: The Inside Story
When under stress, brain freeze like what Jonas encountered happens mostly because your thinking is preoccupied with the stress-inducing stimuli – am I looking cool on TV – blocking out other thoughts.
But that’s not the complete picture.
While low levels of anxiety can affect your ability to recall information; high-stress situations, like being robbed at gunpoint, increases your brain’s ability to encode and recall traumatic events.
A study by Marloes J. A. G. Henckens and team demonstrated how “acute stress is accompanied by a shift into a hypervigilant mode of sensory processing in combination with increased allocation of neural resources to noise reduction. This reduction of task-irrelevant ambient noise, in combination with a stress-hormone-induced optimal state for neural plasticity, may explain why stressful events attain a privileged position in memory”.
What Does This Stress Memory Loss
Chemical Connection Mean?
In simple words, when you are anxious, your brain will put you on red alert and increase your focus and concentration on that stressful event by eliminating any other distracting information. This can aid in encoding some information into your long-term memory better.
However, there’s more to this story.
Chronic stress, like constant worry about losing your job, can have devastating effects on memory.
Here’s another one of those quotes worth reading twice:
“The effects of stress on memory are not always facilitatory. Several studies have demonstrated that while memory for emotional information is enhanced when encoded under stress, memory for neutral information can be impaired (Payne et al., 2006; 2007).” (Impairing and Enhancing Effects of Psychosocial Stress on Episodic Memory and Eyewitness Report, Siobhan Marie Hoscheidt, 2011)
“Schilling et al. examined the effect of varying levels cortisol (a common measure of stress) on recall performance. The results provide evidence that stress and memory performance have an inverted U-shaped relationship, where too much stress has a deleterious effect on memory performance.” (Psychosocial Stress Increases Activity-but not Event-Based Prospective Memory, Mollie McGuire, 2016)
What does all this mean?
When under stress, your body activates a part of the adrenal gland that dumps cortisol – also known as the stress hormone – into the bloodstream.
The Truth About Memory, Stress And Cortisol
In the short term, cortisol may be beneficial (basically because it mobilizes white blood cells and enhances the immune system).
However, cortisol binds to cells in that area of the brain that converts new experiences into memory. This binding disrupts the memory-forming process, ultimately making memory impairment permanent.
Researchers at the University of Iowa also found a connection between cortisol and short-term memory loss in older rats.
Another study by Cheryl D.Conrad found that chronic stress reduces spatial memory: the memory that helps you recall locations and relate objects. “Chronic stress clearly impacts nearly every brain region.”
Precisely the reason you sometimes forget where you kept your car keys when you are about to rush to the office for an important (read stressful) meeting.
High stress also activates the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream. Adrenaline increases your attentiveness which is important to support your defense mechanism of “fight or flight” when put in a stressful situation.
However, adrenaline and memory do not mix well.
While the increased attentiveness may have a fleeting beneficial effect on memory; the anxiety and distress – that causes adrenaline production – is likely to lead to brain fog and forgetfulness.
A Non-Stressful, No Brainer Memory Booster
It’s actually counterproductive if you worry about not remembering important details.
The more you worry about losing your mind, the more your brain gets stressed and the more you forget!
In reality, your ability to remember is related to the level of concentration and focus you used when trying to memorize facts than anything else.
Focus and concentration are key to memory recall. They are necessary for creating complete memories without any added stress.
One way to improve your concentration and focus is through meditation.
This mental exercise which involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present is also beneficial in calming the mind and reducing effects of stress and anxiety.
Another thing to remember is that a ton of stress comes from poor diet. Specific types of food can have beneficial – or detrimental – effects on memory. Moreover, it is possible to change your diet to maintain, and achieve better levels of memory.
But if you want just one thing that is not only the ultimate stress reducer, but also an effective memory enhancer, build Memory Palaces the Magnetic Memory Method way.
This powerful memorization method was even adored by the ancient Greeks. I’ve added lots of additional tools, including relaxation techniques that enable you to get more from your memory – without the hassle of stress.
Why Use A Memory Palace?
It boils down to this:
The Memory Palace is the best memory technique because as a foundational learning technique, it allows you to develop and use spatial memory in a way that unlocks the power of autobiographical memory, episodic memory, semantic memory and more.
This enables you to move information into long-term memory faster and with reliable permanence.
Building a Memory Palace is a simple technique. You start by associating information with specific areas of a familiar location.
Then you walk through that location (in your mind) and place pieces of information that you wish to memorize in specific areas. When you want to recall that information, you go through that mental path and access that information easily.
If you are interested in this memory method, click on the image below:
You can use more than just visual imagery to remember information through association!
Truly magnetic imagery involves a combination of these six Magnetic Modes:
A quick memory tip:
If you are struggling to remember these Magnetic Modes, rearrange them to make the acronym COG KAV. Next, create the image of a giant machine in a cave. Simple? Now, you will never forget your Magnetic Modes. Here’s an infographic to help make this strategy clearer:
Lead A Balanced Life
Dealing with constant stress and worry is not a great way to lead your life. Neither is it a reliable memory enhancement strategy.
The good news is that leading a balanced life is simple.
It involves a good night’s sleep, nourishing diet, meditation, and an effective, dedicated memory strategy (like the Magnetic Memory Method).
Combined, these simple activities will enable you to create strong memories that you can enjoy without worry.
Now how does that sound?