“I’m Just Too Frazzled to Think Straight”
How often do you hear a co-worker… a friend… or even a family member say something like that? You may even feel that way yourself every so often.
But it’s more than a feeling. It’s a medical fact. Stress can have a strong impact on your ability to think clearly… and on your memory.
Today, we’ll look at how stress affects your mind… and how to clear out the fog that stress carries with it.
You probably know that one of your body’s reactions to stress is to release the “stress hormone” – cortisol.
Cortisol was an important defense mechanism for our distant ancestors. Imagine you’re out hunting for food – armed only with a bow and arrow – and an angry grizzly suddenly charges you.
This sudden stress would cause the release of a flood of cortisol – and trigger the “fight or flight” response. With cortisol, your reaction could be swift and instinctual… and your chances of survival would increase.
Cortisol performs the same function for us today. But there probably aren’t a lot of angry grizzlies after you these days. Instead, your stress is more likely to be linked to problems at work… caring for a sick family member… or having an “upside-down” mortgage.
Your body still releases cortisol in response to these stresses. But they don’t ramble off after a few minutes like an angry bear. Today’s stresses stick around. And all that extra cortisol can take a toll on your brain.
One problem cortisol causes is with your memory. Doctors in San Diego tested the memories of two groups of people – one low stress and the other high stress. The high stress group – who had high cortisol levels over a fairly long time – performed much worse.1
Cortisol can even hurt your memory in the short term. That’s what Iowa researchers discovered. They stressed a group of people with speech and math tests – similar to the types of stress you face today. Those who responded to the stress with a burst of cortisol had problems remembering vivid pictures they’d seen just 24 hours before.2
Cortisol can also affect your ability to think clearly.
At Johns Hopkins University, scientists looked at nearly 1,000 people from age 50 to 70. All the participants took a series of tests to measure their ability to think clearly and remember. The researchers measured the group’s cortisol levels before, during and after the tests.
The results? People with high cortisol levels performed much worse than those with low cortisol. In other words, the cortisol brought on an attack of “brain fog.”3
So what do you do if you have a lot of stress? The first step is to see if you can remove the cause of the stress. You can also use nutrients such as B vitamins – and calming herbs such as passion flower – to help your body handle the stress.
But you can also promote lower cortisol levels. Here are three easy tips…
Heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids support healthier cortisol levels, too. In one study, men taking fish oil – high in Omega-3’s –had much lower cortisol levels after just 3 weeks. Their other signs of stress also dropped. 4
Pampering yourself can help. Florida researchers found that therapeutic massage helped lower cortisol levels – and boost “feel good” chemicals in the brain.5
Finally, laugh. Watch a sit-com, read a funny book, listen to your favorite comedian. A team at Loma Linda University discovered that not just laughter – but even just anticipating something funny – promotes a decrease in cortisol.6
We all may have those days when we feel “too frazzled to think straight.” But now you know how to have fewer of them… and how to make them bother you less.
Dr Kenneth Woliner, M.D.
Best Life Herbals
1 Peavy GM, et al. Biological Psychiatry. The Effects of Prolonged Stress and APOE Genotype on Memory and Cortisol in Older Adults. Biological Psychiatry, Volume 62, Issue 5, 1 September 2007, Pages 472-478.
2 Buchanan TW, et al. Stress and emotional memory retrieval: effects of sex and cortisol response. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2008 Feb;89(2):134-41. Epub 2007 Aug 16.
3 Lee BK, et al. Associations of salivary cortisol with cognitive function in the Baltimore memory study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Jul;64(7):810-8.
4 Delarue J, et al. Fish oil prevents the adrenal activation elicited by mental stress in healthy men. Diabetes Metab. 2003 Jun;29(3):289-95.
5 Field T, et al. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. 2005 Oct;115(10):1397-413.
6 Berk LS, et al. Cortisol and Catecholamine stress hormone decrease is associated with the behavior of perceptual anticipation of mirthful laughter. The FASEB Journal. 2008;22:946.11.