Does Stress from Work Affect Memory and Cognition?

does workplace stress affect cognitive memory?

The therapeutic-health workplace is a hustling and bustling one.  While we know that not all stress is negative and amounts in small doses are okay, stress in excess causes negative effects on our brain including decreases in ability to store information. Our memory is often negatively affected when we are burdened by an overload of stress. High demands, unpleasant patients, long hours, and accepting too much work than you can handle are common causes of therapeutic workplace stress. Factors that even occur away from work can fuel the mental trepidation that a busy day of with clients can push over the edge. Not only can stress physically affect your health allowing for higher risks of weight problems, heart issues, elevated blood pressure, and general well-being but it can cause your mind’s functions to become impaired or slowed. In times of high panic, the brain can temporarily have trouble recalling information. Studies show that chronic stress can have a lasting toll on abilities to learn and recall.


Brain function is significantly impaired after chronic overloads of stress hormones are unleashed. At moments of perceived danger our brain naturally puts out adrenalin. However, after a few minutes, if the feelings persist corticosteroids are released. “Corticosteroids” (also known as cortisol), which is a type of steroid, dispensed during moments of high stress and are what can interfere with the brains hippopotamus (the portion of the brain that has ability to perform cognitive tasks like memory.) When too much cortisol is released, the brain has a difficult time storing new memories or recalling old ones. This is why often times people seem to “draw a blank” when they’re under a lot of pressure. Typically when this occurs, two things happen. The fight or flight response (which is released by the sympathetic nervous system) competes with the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for releasing a feeling of relaxation. The push and pull normally are responsible of balancing the feelings and returning to a a state of homeostasis. However, when a balance is not achieved and one nervous system of the two prevails, stress occurs. When the stress happens, it effects the brain in the hippocampus part, the area that manages memory and learning. When stress occurs frequently, it can damage the brain’s functionality and actually kill brain cells. This can seriously damage your ability to remember information.

How can you avoid stress?

  • On the job, provide yourself with personal time during breaks. Find your niche; take a brief walk, learn breathing exercises, listen to soothing music, have a healthy snack.
  • Give yourself reasonable/achievable standards and deadlines. Overloading yourself with unrealistic goals is a huge trigger for inducing stress. Don’t be afraid to make checklists and organize appointments in a planner. Visualizing what needs to be done and physically crossing it off the list can cause a great wave of relief.
  • Avoid hostility with co-workers. Stress arrives from unpleasant interactions with other employees. If a disagreement arises, walk away.
  • Laughter is great medicine. Joking about your worries will make them appear less overwhelming, too.

Jobs in therapy allow you to help patients on the road to self-improvement. But, like almost any job, it can come with added levels of apprehension. If you feel that you are suffering an unhealthy level of work-related stress, it is important to “diagnose and treat” the problem before it can alter your performance with patients or cause damage to your brain.

Author: Allied Travel Careers

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