Updated: Jul 22, 2020
I was half watching the news the other day until I heard the words "stress might lead to memory loss." Say what, now?! Well, that surely grabbed my attention, but it was at that moment I realized the volume was turned down too low and the remote control was no where to be found. When I finally found the remote, of course a commercial had come on. *sigh "Stress might lead to memory loss," I said over and over to myself and instantly thought, "I need more details!" Since I failed to hear what was said about stress and it's relation to memory loss, I had to do some digging for answers. So, here we are learning together!
I Really Know How it Feels to be Stressed Out
Stress: the physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another; strain.
Life gets hectic at times and it is during those moments when we may find ourselves a liiiiittle stressed out. This stress can be related to our job, school, finances, family, friendships, illness, I mean the list goes on and on (* in my Erykah Badu voice). Considering I've had my share of stressing over the smallest things, which left me with anxiety and even bouts of depression, I find it important for us to learn how to manage our stress. We all know that what we do today, will have an impact on our tomorrow. I'm not bringing this information to you as some kind of guru who has mastered managing stress, hell nah. I am simply bringing awareness to the long-term effects of having high levels of stress as it relates to aging. I'm all about prevention and a firm believer in working out my own issues to enhance my quality of life.
How often do you find yourself in stressful situations and unable to manage? Do you often sweat the small stuff? For example, if you're at a restaurant and the waitress brings you the wrong order, do you find yourself boiling on the inside with rage and allowing it to ruin your entire day? When you get a bill that is more than your paycheck, does it cause you to worry, which then leads to lack of sleep and anxiety (Beeeeen theeere)? Do you find yourself freaking out on the highway because you're behind someone in the fast lane who is driving slow? I'm definitely guilty of this one, so don't think I'm judging you! Please know that although these examples are completely normal reactions, if we allow stress to occur more frequently, we could find ourselves at a higher risk of having MEMORY LOSS. Did I get your attention yet?
What Does Science Say About Stress & Memory Loss?
I've heard many people express their concerns of eventually losing their memory as they continue to age. Some people are confident that they will lose their memory and be unable to care for themselves. Why? I guess it's because that's the picture society has painted for us, as it relates to aging. People believe that memory loss is a normal part of aging, and some obsess over this thought. Here's a fact that I want you to know with reference to aging and memory loss: The National Institute on Aging (NIA), says that forgetfulness is common as we age (i.e misplacing keys and not knowing where you last saw them), but other cognitive issues that have an impact on our memory are related to something more serious and are not a normal part of aging. Truthfully, I wouldn't focus so much on myths like memory loss being inevitable as we get older. Instead, I would focus on what has been scientifically proven to cause memory loss, like S-T-R-E-S-S as an example.
According to Dr. Sudha Seshadri, experiencing stress more often than not can be detrimental to the brain and is linked to memory loss, as well as shrinkage of brain matter. Dr. Seshadri tested 2,000 men and women who were in their late 40's and had no presence of dementia. The participants were tested for memory, abstract reasoning, visual perception, and attention, in order to assess total white matter, lobar gray matter, and white matter hyper-intensity volumes. The results showed the presence of higher cortisol being associated with worse memory and visual perception. You can check out the link under Dr. Seshadri's name because I don't want this to turn into a biology class. I just want to make it clear that there is scientific evidence that shows one of the real causes of memory loss is related to stress.
So, how does all of this work in the brain? I'm glad you asked. We have a hormone known as cortisol in our body. Cortisol comes out to play when we find ourselves stressed. The cortisol is released in our blood when we are in high stressed situations, which is known as fight or flight (today it is known as fight, flight, or freeze). Once we have calmed down from whatever caused the stress, the cortisol levels go back to normal. The issue arises, when our cortisol levels remain high and no longer go back to normal, which can result in anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and lack of sleep. The University of Iowa also conducted a study that showed memory lapses related to high levels of cortisol begin at age 65. None of that sounds very fun, or like anything I want to happen to me.
Check out this 4 minute TedEd video explaining with pictures and additional detail about how stress affects the brain here.
3 Ways to Find Relief
1. Mindfulness: I was talking to a friend yesterday about how sometimes it just feels better to be stressed. At times I find myself wanting the stress because my reaction is flipping out on whoever about whatever. When I really think about it though, it doesn't make me feel better. Instead, it just gives me a chance to get my blood pressure up and have a horrible attitude making people not want to be around me. When we are mindful of what is going on around us, what caused us to change in posture, tone and attitude, then we are able to process how to create a more positive situation.
Here's some links about mindfulness:
2. Clean Up: I'm the type of person that cannot stand clutter. I can let things pile up in my room, but not for long. Clutter can have an impact on our mood and cause stress. I've found that even the smallest thing like folding the clothes that have been sitting on my chair for over a week, makes me feel that some stress has been relieved. Now, if you're lazy this may not be one you will feel yourself wanting to do, but I promise it has its benefits on relieving stress.
Here's some links about the benefits of cleaning up being a stress reliever:
3. Exercise: I'm the last person who will tell you that exercising is fun. To me, it's not. The preparation and mindset that I have to be in to even get to the gym is not my type of fun. Hooooowever, when I am done with a workout I feel UH-freakin'-MEY-ZING (Amazing)!! Wanna know why? Those beautiful endorphins are released while I'm exercising, which put me on a natural hiiiiigh (*in my Toni Braxton voice). Exercise takes my mind off of all the things going on in my life, or at least allows me a chance to process. I remember getting a "we're going with another candidate e-mail" (you know exactly what kind of e-mail I'm talking about) one day and sheesh, words can't express all of the negative emotions and stress I was feeling. I went to the gym at my apartment complex, got on the treadmill, increased the speed to 6.5 (that's fast to me lol) and was GONE! Afterwards, I said a few explicit words and I was back like I never left with being positive. I do understand it is not always that easy when it comes to getting stress off of our backs, but exercise does help!
We've all heard about the benefits of exercising, but in case you didn't know how it can be used as a stress reliever, I got some links for you:
Let It Flow
Stress happens. I wanted to put another word that begins with an 's' in that first sentence, but *sigh. I think Frank Sinatra said it best "that's life!" We will face issues that bring about stress, but how we address those problems can make a world of difference on our lives as we continue to age. There are some things that don't deserve our energy (i.e. An annoying supervisor or arguments). We can't control people or even some situations, but we can let that ish go. I say this from my own personal experiences. Like I said in the beginning, I'm all about taking preventive measures that will help me in the long run. This aging process will not always be easy, but we can get through it. We just have to put in that consistent work with being mindful, decluttering, exercising, eating right...you get my drift. You've got this!
"Just let go, let it flow, let it flow, let it flooow. Everything's gonna work out right ya know." -Toni Braxton
"I really know how it feels to be stressed out, stressed out when you're face to face with your adversity. I really know how it feels to be stressed out, stressed out. We're gonna make this thing work out eventually" - A Tribe Called Quest (Feat. Faith Evans)