Holiday Stress, Memory and the Brain

The holidays are upon us…a wonderful opportunity to visit and spend time with family and friends. For some of us, the holidays can also be quite stressful…traveling great distances, crowded shopping malls, paying for holiday purchases, setting up holiday decorations, preparing holiday meals, entertaining the in-laws, unexpected company, frequent family gatherings, increased workload… all of which can affect our brain function.

Numerous studies have shown that stress may adversely affect our ability to focus and solve problems, and may also cause short term memory loss. Here’s what happens chemically: the stress hormone cortisol damages the cells in the memory center of your brain. As stress and cortisol levels increase, so does the chance of developing memory loss. Remember frequent visits to the grocery store for ingredients that never made it on the shopping list? High levels of cortisol also impact your ability to learn and retain new information, which is called short-term memory loss.

So how can we cope with holiday stress?

Stress Management
Stress-relaxation techniques work by reducing stress, thus lowering cortisol levels, and improving many aspects of mental function. Research has shown that the benefits of a regular stress-relaxation practice can improve your overall health…such as improved heart function, reduced anxiety and chronic pain, and increased longevity…and can especially improve focus, attention, and optimal mental performance.

There are many ways to manage stress, the most obvious of which is to avoid stressful situations. Since this is less likely to occur during the holiday season, other techniques to lower stress and anxiety might include yoga, meditation, exercise, deep breathing, and chanting. Proper nutrition and proper sleep are also important for brain health.

During the holiday season and beyond, it is important for us to learn how to manage the stress in our lives so we can be better prepared for life’s unexpected and challenging situations. Stress management is essential for our continued mental and physical well-being.

Learn more about the 4 Pillars of Alzheimer’s Prevention™, which includes Diet, Stress Management, and Exercise, at

Wishing you a stress-free holiday season!