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You 101: Why You Get Forgetful When Stressed

I hope I'm not alone when it comes to finding myself overstressed, overtired and absurdly forgetful. I've actually hung up the phone and been unable to remember, moments later, who I was talking with or what was discussed. I once found the handset in my refrigerator -- kid you not. I've made lists to help keep it together and promptly been unable to find said lists. This frustrates other people, who presume I'm a little kooky or careless, which I'm not, of course, and I can get pretty frustrated at myself. But guess what? I'm not to blame, an enzyme is.

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Turns out that acute or chronic stress can impair short-term memory. While the riddle isn't entirely solved, it appears that neurons in the hippocampus -- the part of the brain responsible for memories that involve people, places, and events -- are altered by stress.

An enzyme called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, might be the cause, according to scientists at Rockefeller University. Interestingly enough, changes caused by tPA in the brain might actually be protecting it from more permanent damage by slowing down our cognitive abilities.

It's hoped this research will begin to shed light on serious stress-related illnesses, like PTSD. For those of us struggling with the daily accumulation of major stress, like caring for a sick child or an elderly parent, a job loss, a death or other emotional crises, there's some good news. The scientists report that these effects are largely "reversible [when] you terminate the stress."

Having this information helps me be more patient with myself, and it's a nice fact to have handy when others ramp up the judgement, too. Oh, and happy Brain Awareness Week, ladies. Betcha didn't know there was such a thing.


Join The Conversation
haribobear haribobear 9 years
wow this is nice to know. I have the same problem once in a while and I started to wonder if i am going insane... Thanks!!!
bizzybee bizzybee 10 years
Why thank you HoneySugar28! How sweet of you. Now I know how you got your name :)
honeysugar28 honeysugar28 10 years
Bizzybee I'm so sorry you've been through so much. Stress definetly affects your concentration levels and with the highly stressful situations you've been on I can totally understand.
bizzybee bizzybee 10 years
I really appreciate this information. I was just thinking about how much my mind and memory have changed over the past year - it's been an extremely stressful one including the loss of my mother, moving and changing careers. Your comment about how other people see you as kooky or careless is very true! That's been tough on me emotionally as I'm a newbie here and so that's the only "me" these people know. I was beginning to get down on myself for this. Instead, I'll work on chilling out and being kinder to myself.
lickety-split lickety-split 10 years
it's probably the brains way of telling us to slow down or accept only what it thinks we can handle. i found my keys in the cupboard once, and those lists; can't keep track of them long enough to cross anything off on them to save my life.
honeysugar28 honeysugar28 10 years
Wow this is great I suffer from the same thing! I actually missed my cousin's baby shower last week I was rushing so much because I was late and threw out some garbage out of my car and my car keys were right in the garbage can I was looking for them for 2 hours! I guess next time I need to just stop an calm down.
grl-in-the-world grl-in-the-world 10 years
Thanks for sharing this info, I'm sure it will help a lot of us to be more patient with ourselves! I'm really into making lists and keeping a calander of important events, otherwise, I can get pretty upset with myself if I forget something important!
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