Does stress affect your memory? – Elizabeth Cox

Does stress affect your memory? – Elizabeth Cox

You spend weeks studying
for an important test. On the big day, you wait nervously
as your teacher hands it out. You’re working your way through,
when you’re asked to define ‘ataraxia.’ You know you’ve seen it before,
but your mind goes blank. What just happened? The answer lies in
the complex relationship between stress and memory. There are many types
and degrees of stress and different kinds of memory, but we’re going to focus on
how short-term stress impacts your memory for facts. To start, it helps to understand
how this kind of memory works. Facts you read, hear, or study become memories through
a process with three main steps. First comes acquisition: the moment you encounter
a new piece of information. Each sensory experience activates
a unique set of brain areas. In order to become lasting memories, these sensory experiences have to be consolidated
by the hippocampus, influenced by the amygdala, which emphasizes experiences
associated with strong emotions. The hippocampus then encodes memories, probably by strengthening
the synaptic connections stimulated during
the original sensory experience. Once a memory has been encoded, it can be remembered,
or retrieved, later. Memories are stored all over the brain, and it’s likely the prefrontal cortex
that signals for their retrieval. So how does stress
affect each of these stages? In the first two stages, moderate stress can actually
help experiences enter your memory. Your brain responds to stressful stimuli by releasing hormones
known as corticosteroids, which activate a process
of threat-detection and threat-response in the amygdala. The amygdala prompts your hippocampus to consolidate the stress-inducing
experience into a memory. Meanwhile, the flood
of corticosteroids from stress stimulates your hippocampus, also prompting memory consolidation. But even though some stress
can be helpful, extreme and chronic stress
can have the opposite effect. Researchers have tested this by injecting
rats directly with stress hormones. As they gradually increased
the dose of corticosteroids, the rats’ performance on
memory tests increased at first, but dropped off at higher doses. In humans, we see a similar
positive effect with moderate stress. But that only appears when
the stress is related to the memory task— so while time pressure might
help you memorize a list, having a friend scare you will not. And the weeks, months, or even years of sustained corticosteroids
that result from chronic stress can damage the hippocampus and decrease your ability
to form new memories. It would be nice if some stress
also helped us remember facts, but unfortunately, the opposite is true. The act of remembering relies
on the prefrontal cortex, which governs thought,
attention, and reasoning. When corticosteroids
stimulate the amygdala, the amygdala inhibits,
or lessens the activity of, the prefrontal cortex. The reason for this inhibition
is so the fight/flight/freeze response can overrule slower, more reasoned
thought in a dangerous situation. But that can also have
the unfortunate effect of making your mind
go blank during a test. And then the act of trying to remember
can itself be a stressor, leading to a vicious cycle
of more corticosteroid release and an even smaller chance of remembering. So what can you do to turn stress
to your advantage and stay calm and collected
when it matters the most? First, if you know a stressful
situation like a test is coming, try preparing in conditions similar
to the stressful environment. Novelty can be a stressor. Completing practice questions
under time pressure, or seated at a desk
rather than on a couch, can make your stress response
to these circumstances less sensitive during the test itself. Exercise is another useful tool. Increasing your heart
and breathing rate is linked to chemical changes
in your brain that help reduce anxiety
and increase your sense of well-being. Regular exercise is also widely
thought to improve sleeping patterns, which comes in handy
the night before a test. And on the actual test day, try taking deep breaths to counteract
your body’s flight/fight/freeze response. Deep breathing exercises have shown
measurable reduction in test anxiety in groups ranging from
third graders to nursing students. So the next time you find your mind
going blank at a critical moment, take a few deep breaths
until you remember ataraxia: a state of calmness, free from anxiety.

100 comments on “Does stress affect your memory? – Elizabeth Cox

  1. TED-Ed Post author

    Check out this playlist to learn more about how stress affects your brain and body: Understanding is one way we can build #StrengthNotStress.

  2. Natalia Magkou Post author

    The fact that Amygdala is a Greek word whitch means almonds makes me laugh every time she pronounces it

  3. Zy_Vrie Post author

    This is hilarious. I got to watch this video a day before my college entrance exam to my dream university and right now I'm still cramming information. Does it count as stress if I tend to remember details more when I study them last minute but I'm not really "stressed" about what I'm learning or the exam itself? Honestly, I'm more worried about not getting to read all the materials for every subject. I do have a good memory and I've been the top of our batch for two years now (senior high).

  4. Ram Quait Post author

    since the last year it(going completely blank) keeps happening to me in every test.i really need help .do u know of any medications to help reduce this stress?my grades are falling in college because of this.

  5. Lazy Ro Post author

    Same thing happened to me in our anatomy moving tests. Been memorizing those specific parts (repeating them a few minutes before the test started) but when it was my turn to identify those parts in the cadaver, my mind went blank. I knew I studied them and know them well but I was unable to retrieve them. I think one major factor that caused it is my hours of sleep. I've been sleep-deprived for that week trying to study the topics (I get 2-3 hours sleep/night at most). I really have to strategize better than my current way of doing things.

  6. no one Post author

    Lol this is how I always do ?? like i hate to be stressed out so i always calm myself. For me it's easy to remember what I learned yesterday at a test because i take deep breath and i think "I have enough time to think about it. It's easy, I've done this before i can do it again, just concentrain…" and I'm good ?

  7. shirurirun Post author

    Ataraxia: a state I never knew…
    Also, I think my Hippocampus is damaged after years of stress from school. Yay.
    Now I have all the anxiety I had when I started school PLUS Depression and stupidity. Yay…

  8. Jan Walsworth Post author

    This really qualifies as a duh… video. Stress taking a test is child's play. Anyone who lives with stress does not need to be told there is a connection to memory. And when you live under constant stress who cares about the technicalities. Deep breaths can only do so much.

  9. Wayne Wallace Post author

    Stress is the internal force acting per unit area..
    Three kinds of stress include tensile stress, bulk stress and shearing stress.
    I am a mechanical engineer

  10. lovely littlegirl Post author

    Honestly this video was so well thought out. I love how the word Ataraxia was used to create an Irony. Bravo!

  11. Mimyakko Post author

    I took a summer calculus class in June/July which stressed me out A LOT. I failed the class because I would instantly forget what I studied as soon as I got the test. Ever since then my memory has been worse. I forget everything now (everyday tasks, homework, names of the students at my job that I previously knew)

  12. Rafaella Guelfand Post author

    Or, if you think you have a chronic anxiety disoder, go talk with a specialist. Having a problem and/or taking mental-health meds is NOT something to be ashamed of.
    Also: ataraxia SUCKS, you don't want it.

  13. Paulo Jose Castro Post author

    No wonder I'm bad and in high school but good at college. those stressful schedules really wear a student down. who standardized that anyway? Its also true that when stressed your breathing becomes irregular, you can use timer to prove this yourself(I inhale quicker) Its better to "manually breathe" under stress.

  14. Ashelle Tuleja Post author

    Most of the time when I'm stressed i can't even remember my best friends name, but I can remember random things that I haven't thought about in years that have nothing to do with my situation.

  15. Maria Bali Post author

    Wowie didn't expect ATARAXIA to be the state of calmness . You can bet everyone ever watched the video will not forget it.

  16. Myeon Post author

    I used to think very fast and remember things very well but the amount of pressure I was subjected into during university made it hard for me to remember things nowadays, which eventually affected my performance by the time I was about to finish school. It doesn't help that you're surrounded by the best and the brightest in the country too since you'd want to catch up with everyone. Even the people around me would notice that I would "lag" every time I spoke which they say wasn't like me at all since I always spoke "fluidly" in their terms, or at least I used to. These aren't the only bad things that happened though and up until now I'm still paying the price. I sincerely hope this doesn't happen to anyone.

  17. Zeyneb Aydınlı Post author

    I love these videos, thank you! It was really beneficial for me about not also my english but alsa my anxiety. ♡

  18. purple étoile Post author

    For some reason I remember things from years ago but not somthing my mom told me seconds ago

  19. vinod raturi Post author

    How moral it is to test rats with stress hormones ..physical torture may be undrstandable( maybe in terms of "for the betterment of all )" but mentle torture on rats? .. how different mental torture( in terms of lab experiment on animals) is from physical torture ….


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