What Do Studies Show About The Relationship Between Stress And Memory?

A little bit of stress is always beneficial. It can help us get our work done faster. But when your stress starts to meddle with your relationships and even your memory then, you must take some precautions. Follow this article to explore what studies show about the relationship between stress and memory and tips to improve your memory under stress.

Stress can act as a positive factor sometimes but when it starts to meddle with your daily routine then, you must stop and take some time out for yourself. Sometimes when we are stressed about something there is a possibility that we start to neglect everything else around us. We are so coped up with the situation at hand that we forget about our other commitments. We start neglecting our health and our relationships. You can even forget little things like; where did I put my keys? Where is my laptop? Where are my glasses?

All these factors are a sign that longitudinal stress is now affecting your memory, which is not a good thing. Imagine if you are at a social gathering but you are completely stressed about something, your mind is not where your body is, people around you are lacking your attention and interest. And when somebody asks you about your opinion, you have no idea what is going on around you. This is what stress does to your brain, it restricts it into thinking about anything else.

Follow this article to learn more about what studies show about the relationship between stress and memory and tips to improve your memory under stress.

What is the relationship between stress and memory?

When a person experiences stress, their stress hormones become active, leading to changes in various areas of the brain and bloodstream. The prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus are particularly affected by stress. Prolonged stress can significantly impact memory and cognitive functions, depending on the intensity of the stress experienced.

Stress can disrupt brain function, leading to memory issues where you may forget even the smallest details. High levels of stress hormones can throw off the balance of your bloodstream and brain chemistry, which in turn affects your memory. This imbalance can make you feel scatterbrained, reduce your attention span, and hinder your ability to complete basic tasks. Over time, chronic stress may even contribute to long-term health problems.

Additionally, stress can distort your memories. Under prolonged stress, people might struggle to recall specific details and instead reconstruct memories in the present moment, often altering the original events. Research indicates that individuals under long-term stress are more likely to provide inaccurate information due to impaired brain function caused by elevated stress hormones.

Stress can even make people suffer from short term and long term memory losses. People have no idea when the memory was formed, everything inside their brain is foggy and no matter how hard they try, they can never go to the bottom of the story. And if anyone asks them about a certain incident then, they will have no idea about it.

What are some of the ways in which stress affects your brain?

Brain is the most important part of our entire being, it controls our movements, our emotions, our nervous system, and it prepares our body for a flight or fight response. But what happens when stress hormones start affecting the structure of your brain. Following are some of the ways in which stress affects your brain.

  • Impairment of memory
  • Changes in brain structure
  • Mental illnesses
  • It kills your brain cells
  • Stress shrinks your brain

Impairment of memory:

Chronic stress can impair a person’s memory. It can even make you forget whether or not you have completed your basic tasks. It will attack your concentration level and you will be unable to recall any memories that you had, and even if you did remember them, those memories might be blurry or the information can be misleading.

Changes in brain structure:

Stress hormones can cause physical changes in your brain structure. These hormones will attack your amygdala, hypothalamus, and prefrontal cortex. There are white and gray matter in your brain which protects your brain sheets. When stress hormones are mixed with your bloodstream, they imbalance the growth of white and gray matter inside your brain thus, compromising the safety of your brain sheets.

Mental illnesses:

The white and gray matter inside your brain provides a safety net to your brain sheets from being attacked by mental illnesses. But when the matter development is compromised by the high level of stress hormones in the blood then, the brain becomes more susceptible towards mental illnesses.

It kills your brain cells:

According to research, stress hormones are responsible for killing neurons in your brain. Hippocampus is one of the two main locations that produces neurons for your brain. High levels of stress hormones can affect the stability of neurons in your brain.

Stress shrinks your brain:

There is no change in the volume of the brain but when a person is under constant stress their emotions, metabolism, and memory starts to shrink. This means people who are constantly under stress might not be able to handle stress in the future.

What do studies show about the relationship between stress and memory?

There has been much research regarding the link between stress and memory. The most prominent studies that show relationship between stress and memory are:

  • Harvard medical school – 2021
  • Neural Plasticity and Memory: From Genes to Brain Imaging – Chapter 12
  • University of Iowa – 2014
  • The effects of acute stress on episodic memory: A meta-analysis and integrative review
  • Planting misinformation in the human mind – 30 year investigation
  • Journal of psychology – 2017
  • University of California
  • FHE Health – 2022

Harvard medical school – 2021:

According to a research conducted by Dr. Kerry Ressler, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard medical school in 2021 suggested that there are noticeable changes in the brain when a person with stress receives information and a person without any stress is given the same information in a research setting. Stress has also been associated with chronic diseases of the brain and heart. Dr. Kerry also suggests that stress can affect both men and women differently.

Neural Plasticity and Memory: From Genes to Brain Imaging – Chapter 12:

This study suggests that although stress can be beneficial for a person to perform under some circumstances, excessive stress can be severely dangerous for a person for their cognitive functions. Moreover, there comes a time in your life where taking moderate or excessive stress can be dangerous for your survival.

University of Iowa – 2014:

This study suggests that there is a hormone; cortisol in our body that can exceed its required amount when a person is stressed, this can cause memory loss. When a person is suffering from longitudinal stress then, cortisol keeps on increasing which is critical for a person’s health. It can have negative consequences like; anxiety, weight gain, weight loss, high blood pressure, and chronic diseases related to heart and brain.

The effects of acute stress on episodic memory: A meta-analysis and integrative review:

This study was conducted on 6,216 participants to explore the effects of stress on episodic memory. This study suggested that stress affected women’s memory more excessively due to all the hormonal contraceptives they take. This study denied the relationship between the level of cortisol and memory loss.

Planting misinformation in the human mind – 30 year investigation:

The relationship between stress and memory has been investigated for at least 30 years under this study. According to this study, a person is susceptible to misinformation because they don’t generally remember the truth. Some people are more affected by the misinformation factor than others. This study explores that leading negative information can make a person inaccessible.

Journal of Psychology – 2017:

In this journal it was recorded that excessive and longitudinal stress can affect a person’s cognitive control related to speed and memory. It was noted that in the patients who were diagnosed with memory impairment all of them had stress exhaustion. According to this study, a minimum of three years is required for stress to affect a person’s cognitive control.

University of California:

According to this study, in the long term memory loss people can even forget whether or not they were stressed about something. They start to lose their ability to recall a specific moment. A research was conducted on whether or not mindfulness can help in improving your memory, the students who completed mindfulness had better results than the students who did not.

FHE Health:

This study suggests that to explore the link between memory and stress we must learn to mitigate the negatives. This study also linked the cause of memory loss with the increased level of cortisol. Excessive stress can make it difficult for a person to encode new memories. If you notice your family member or your friend losing their memory due to excessive stress then, it’s time to seek professional help.

What are some of the tips to improve your memory under stress?

Everyone goes through stress and moderate stress can be the reason for motivation for some people but excessive stress can affect your hippocampus which is responsible for the production of neurons which can result in the impairment of memory and shrinking of your brain.

To avoid all of that, here are some tips that can help you improve your memory under stress.

  • Get moving
  • Mental exercise
  • Eat healthy
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Take rest
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Moderate weight
  • Enough sleep
  • Test your vitamin D level
  • Add some cocoa to your diet

Get moving:

Exercise is extremely essential for everyone. It can help you with blood flow in your body and your brain. It can create great flow in your hippocampus to produce new neurons, it can also help you regain your memory. Join a class or go on a walk for at least one hour, get some fresh air, and you will feel relieved.

Mental exercise:

Just like how physical exercise is beneficial for you, mental exercise is good for boosting your memory. Whenever you are waiting in a line or sitting idle, try solving a crossword puzzle or a sudoku puzzle. You can even try solving a rubix cube, it can boost your memory and it can also spark creativity.

Eat healthy:

It is natural for you to order a greasy meal for you like fries, burger, or onion rings when you are stressed. But you have to fight your cravings and instead of eating fast food you should eat fruits or vegetables. Vitamins A, B, C, and E can help you boost your memory and reduce stress.

Limit your alcohol intake:

After a hectic day a glass of wine sounds great but not everyday. Too much alcohol can lead to memory loss. Instead of alcohol,  you can choose a nice hot cup of tea to relieve your stress. In a recent study it was recorded that drinking tea regularly can help you lower the risk of memory impairment by 50%.

Take rest:

Most people like to work overtime to complete all of their tasks but this is not the right thing to do on a daily basis. At one point your brain will be tired and you won’t be able to produce any productive ideas. You must take rest, give yourself micro breaks after completing a task, go outside, talk to someone, or you can simply close your eyes and relax. This will ease your mind and you will feel fresh.


Meditation can be relaxing and soothing for your body and your mind. According to research, it can help in increasing the gray matter inside your brain, this matter contains neuron cells. Meditation can improve short term memory loss in adults.


Mindfulness is a state in which you are aware of your surroundings, it can also be used in meditation. But both meditation and mindfulness are two different things. You can practice mindfulness in any environment. It can help a person by improving their concentration and memory.

Moderate weight:

Maintaining a moderate weight is extremely essential for your physical and mental health. Obesity can put your cognitive control at risk, it can also invite many other chronic diseases towards your body. Obesity can cause changes in your memory associated genes thus, affecting your memory negatively.

Enough sleep:

When you are sleep deprived, it can negatively affect your memory. When you are sleeping, your brain transforms your short term memories into long term memories. But not getting enough sleep can affect your memory for all the wrong reasons. Healthcare professionals suggest 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night to stay at your optimal health.

Test your vitamin D level:

Having less vitamin D in your blood vessels can be associated with a lot of diseases including cognitive impairment. A person with less vitamin D will have memory and other cognitive impairment faster than any other person. They are also at risk of getting dementia.

Add some cocoa to your diet:

According to research, cocoa can help in increasing blood vessels. It can also increase blood flow in your brain. People who eat dark chocolate have better memory as compared to people who eat white or milk chocolate. Make sure you eat dark chocolate which is rich in antioxidants that can help you boost your memory.


Studies have established a connection between stress and memory. When a person experiences excessive stress, increased cortisol levels can impair cognitive functions, including memory. Some research indicates that women might be more vulnerable to memory problems due to stress, particularly if they are using hormonal contraceptives. Additionally, stress can lead to misinformation, as a compromised memory might cause individuals to provide incorrect or misleading information.

While seeking professional help is always an option for managing severe stress, there are also several effective strategies you can use to improve memory and reduce stress. Techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, regular physical exercise, a healthy diet, adequate vitamin D, quality sleep, and maintaining a healthy weight can all support stress relief and cognitive function.