The link between stress and memory loss

Sunset on a beach

Imagine that you are in a serene and peaceful place

We know that stress is bad for our health. It can also mess with memory. A few years ago, researchers at Edinburgh University in Scotland uncovered some clues that help explain how prolonged stress can lead to memory loss in old age.

They studied older mice and how two receptors in their brains reacted to the stress hormone cortisol. When you’re under stress, cortisol levels usually go up. The researchers discovered that one receptor in the mice’s brains was activated by low levels of cortisol, which helped memory. But when the cortisol level got too high it spilled over onto a second receptor. When that happened, the mice had trouble remembering how to navigate a maze. The memory problem was reversed when the receptor linked to poor memory was blocked.

How do the findings benefit humans? For one thing, they could help further research into treatments for age-related memory disorders. For another, they serve as a reminder of how important it is to take care of ourselves now. I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of days when I’ve felt lost in a maze. I would like to live a nice long life with a well-functioning memory. One morning, when I’m maybe 100, I  simply want to “wake up dead.” That’s not asking too much, is it? This research gives yet another reason to try and reduce everyday stress. It isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Some stress reducers

Here are some stress reducers that work for me. The key is to do them, not just think about them.

  • Exercise. All I need to do is take a walk or do the treadmill for 20 minutes and it puts me in a better frame of mind. I’ve also been working out regularly with personal trainer Andy Wight for more than a year now.
  • Eat. I can get so engrossed in my work I forget to eat lunch. I try to turn off the computer, shut my door, and do something relaxing like the crossword puzzle while I eat my lunch. I only wish it could be delivered to me every day.
  • Sleep. Early to bed and early to rise really does work.
  • Listen to music. Got my earphones and my favorite songs. Can tune everything out and write at the same time.
  • Paint. I discovered oil painting a few years ago, now have a studio in my home, and continue to take lessons. Painting puts me in a zone like nothing else. Hours can fly by like minutes.
  • Put in in the jar. I have a ginger jar that was given to me by a friend many years ago. If I am stressed about something that is out of my control I will often write it down and put the piece of paper in the jar. If I continue to worry about it, I tell myself, “It’s in the jar with the lid on it. You can’t think about it anymore.” That little trick has worked for me countless times. I’ve looked at things I wrote down years ago and laughed, wondering why I let something inconsequential cause me so much stress.
  • Visit my grandchildren. I’m lucky to have two granddaughters. Nothing else matters when I am with them.

You can visit a million websites and find long lists of suggestions on how to reduce stress, but what’s really important is to figure out what works for you. How do you relieve your stress?

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