Does Stress Affect Memory? Here’s what we know

nik shuliahin BuNWp1bL0nc unsplash
nik shuliahin BuNWp1bL0nc unsplash

Most of us know that we don’t like to feel stressed out, but often, we forget just how severe the impacts of stress can be. Can stress really affect memory, and how so? Today, we’ll discuss what we know about the link between stress and memory, as well as what can help. 

Research on Stress and Memory 

We can’t avoid every single stressor in life. One may say that the fact that our body reacts to stress the way it does is actually a reflection, in fact, of how smart the human body is and how much it does for us. After all, stress responses are there to keep us safe and warn us when we are in danger. That said, being in a high-stress state long-term is not healthy and can be harsh on the body and mind. 

Here are some facts on how stress affects memory:

  • Stress can affect learning and short-term memory. Even a few hours of stress can impact your ability to learn. 
  • Stress can impact long-term memory. Not only does stress make it more challenging to learn and remember things short-term, but it also impacts long-term memory and can shrink the brain. 
  • Stress can accelerate aging. Stress is known to accelerate aging in both the body and the mind. Long-term stress is heavily affiliated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Even more, stress doesn’t just impact memory. It affects the whole body. Stress, particularly when ongoing, is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, an increased risk of depression symptoms, a heightened likelihood that one will have a stroke, and impaired sleep – which, unfortunately, can negatively impact memory in and of itself. If stress is prolonged, unpredictable, or if you don’t have support, the effects may be worse. Memory loss is no joke, and it often seems far away until one is faced with it head-on. With all of that in mind, how can you manage stress to support your memory?

Stress Management for Memory

Stress management includes various components, but having a support system is one of the things we know can help based on research, alongside positive daily habits, like physical activity and getting enough sleep. Having tools on hand to cope with stress, like meditation, breathing exercises, and cognitive reframing, can be beneficial both during standalone high-stress moments and on an ongoing basis. Even outside of discussions related to stress, we know of various practices that are known to help protect an individual’s memory – especially in aging populations – that may be relevant or beneficial, and many of them are similar to the practices that are known to reduce stress. These include brain-stimulating activities, like crossword puzzles, creative activities, connecting with other people, and, again, physical activity. Mental health therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy can reduce stress and are encouraged for those who need assistance with stress management. 


Stress can have a major impact on memory and cognition, and although not everything is within our control, we know of some protective mechanisms that can help. Make sure to seek care from a qualified professional if stress or memory-related concerns impact your daily life or functioning. A medical professional can give individualized support and guidance. Memory problems can be indicative of something serious, so it is vital to bring your concerns up with your doctor. If you want to learn more about memory, you can access free medically-reviewed advice articles on the BetterHelp website. 

Marie Miguel Biography

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here