The short answer to the question "Does stress impair memory?" according to scientists is yes. However, seeing the signs, realizing the implications and having a plan to de-stress can help counter the long-term effect that stress has on our memory and cognitive skills.

When we are stressed, a hormone called cortisol circulates through the body to help deal with the situation, along with another less well-known stress hormone, corticotopin. This second hormone is known to affect how our brains collect and store memories while cortisol can prevent the brain from creating new memories or accessing exiting memories.

Unfortunately when we are in a stressful situation, such as a job interview, is when we most need to think quickly. Stress and panic can cause the brain to freeze and the memory to blank. Understanding stress will hopefully lead to new discoveries in science to counter the affect that stress has on memory and long-term mental health.

Long-Term Stress and Memory
Research clearly shows that stress, particularly over a long period of time, impairs brain function. An intense or sustained amount of stress can be harmful, affecting communication skills, making concentration difficult and slowing down the thought process.

In tests, doctors at the Douglas Hospital Research Center found a clear connection between high levels of cortisol and poor memory. They found that those who had been exposed to stress for three to six years had impaired memory and learning abilities compared to those who lived with low levels of cortisol. Unfortunately, even when the stress abates, the negative effects remain. This may explain why some seniors have poor brain function and impaired memory while others perform well into their old age.

Here are a few tips to help lessen the effects that stress has on cognitive function and impaired memory.

Avoid Stress
If at all possible, avoid stressful situations and relationships. Whether in the workplace or at home, avoiding situations that are likely to lead to arguments or worry is generally the best course. When this is not an option, here are other alternatives:

Meditation is a surprisingly powerful and effective way to beat stress. In studies, those who meditate were found to have a better life expectancy than those who did not. Reducing the stress which impairs memory will also mean better quality of that longer life. Those who regularly spend time in meditation have lower levels of lipid peroxidases which are an indicator of damage from free radicals.

Exercise has been found to be good for depression and helps relieve stress and tensions. Getting out for a walk with the dog is a great stress-buster. Alternatively, concentrate on a workout in the gym or follow an exercise program to provide a break from stress, allowing the brain to function unhindered at maximum capacity.

Understanding that stress is likely to impair overall memory function is a good reason to avoid it or have a plan for dealing with it. Although single stressful incidents may simply be stored for later recall, sustained stress may permanently impair the memory.