Stress is known to contribute to many conditions, including high blood pressure and depression. Current research is now showing that it may also have a significant impact on memory loss. This is bad news for employees who deal with increasing work demands, and bad news for the employers who are trying to stay competitive.
Short-term and long-term effects on memory
The brain creates memories in three steps. First, information is received into the brain through a process called encoding. The brain processes the information and prepares it for the second step – consolidation – where it is stored for future use. Finally, the brain calls back the information through retrieval. When individuals experience memory loss, it’s usually a result of encoding problems. Stress acts as interference that prevents the brain from encoding the information properly in the first place.
The hormones corticotopin and cortisol are produced when individuals experience stress. Corticotopin circulates the body during experiences of short-term stress, and disrupt how the brain collects and stores memories. This results in what individuals experience as memory loss. Cortisol plays a significant role in long-term stress. Doctors at the Douglas Hospital Research Center found that individuals with high levels of cortisol experience poor performance on learning and memory tests. In their study, significant learning impairment resulted when individuals experienced three to six years of continued stress.
Memory loss and work performance
Memory loss not only affects an employee’s personal life and relationships, it also affects his or her performance at work. In our global business market, many companies are implementing more efficient software and processes to provide their customers with faster, more reliable service. It’s often the employees who are left with the challenge of learning new ways of conducting business.
Over-stressed employees will often experience problems keeping up with these new processes, if their stress levels are not in check. These same employees may forget important meetings and deadlines. This can result in significant work performance issues, and may cost employers clients, projects, and profits. Stressed employees who work in teams may also contribute to missed deadlines and overall impaired group dynamics.
De-stressing to improve memory
HR professionals can incorporate important steps in their wellness program that address and combat and memory loss. Some of these include:
Providing employees with classes or exercises on de-stressing
It’s important to discuss the impact of stress with your employees. Provide them with valuable topic information and tips on how to decrease their stress levels, both at work and at home. Incorporate de-stressing exercises like yoga and meditation sessions as part of your wellness program. Research shows that relaxation techniques in yoga and meditation decrease stress levels and contribute to an increase in learning and memory capacity.
Encouraging managers to identify symptoms of stress
Discuss the importance of identifying stress symptoms with your managers. Some of these symptoms include an unusual decline in performance, mood changes, and an increase in absenteeism. It’s important for managers to discuss these issues directly with the employee in order to get to the root of the problem. An employee may simply be experiencing a temporary time crunch or it may signal a more serious issue, such as a need for further training or development.
Encouraging employees to maintain proper diet and exercise
Remind your employees that one of the best ways to combat stress and memory loss is to maintain a nutritious diet and a consistent exercise routine. Both diet and exercise naturally release stress and improve your body’s immunity.
Providing employees with tips on improving their memory
Discuss the importance of an active mind. Always focus on the task at hand and avoid distractions. When learning new information, form strong associations. This will help you learn and retain information longer.
The bottom line
Stress has been shown to affect both body and mind. Current research now shows that short-term and long-term stress is associated with memory loss. Stress in general cannot be avoided, but HR professionals can discuss the importance of stress management with their employees, and put it into practice in their wellness programs. The results will drastically improve employee performance, wellbeing, and the employer’s bottom dollar.