Stress is very much a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can motivate you and spur you on to tackle challenges. On the other, it can seriously impair certain processes in your body, especially if your stress is long term.
One process that it can hinder is your memory. While under stress, there are lots of things going on behind the scenes that can make your memory worse. When you’re stressed, you can’t sleep – and a lack of sleep leaves you feeling confused and fuzzy with your memories.
Another issue that you’ll face with memories and stress is the forming and recalling of long-term memories. This is because of cortisol, a stress chemical, which forces you to prefer your short-term memory instead. This is something meant to help us in short term stressful situations, but it actually ends up hurting you if you’re continuously stressed out.
By only preferring your short-term memory, you end up with a lot of problems on your hands. First, by not regularly using your long-term memory, you risk losing some of those mental connections, leaving those memories possibly gone for good.
This can be a horrible situation, leading to something similar to Alzheimer’s in a way. Another serious problem that arises is that you won’t really be able to learn things that well without the ability to form long term memories.
When you learn something, you’re basically committing that to your memory, forming a long-term connection. Without that ability, you’ll find it hard to learn new information, recall old information, and you’ll be making any work or schooling much harder for yourself as a result.
Stress can even make you forget short term things just because you might be hyper-focused on one particular thing. If you’re freaking out over something that you need to do and someone asks you to do them a favor, you might brush them off and agree.
However, you might then totally forget about them asking you because you were too busy worrying to actually form that memory at the time. If you tend to get depressed while you’re stressed out, that can also make it difficult to form memories.
While depression alone can hinder memories, it’s often made worse by something that accompanies depression in some people: alcohol consumption. Alcohol can cause you to have trouble remembering things or forming those memories in the first place, meaning that if you’ve turned to drink in order to relieve your stress, you’re probably doing more harm than good.