How Memories Can Cause You Stress

By Madelaine Romero - October 22, 2023
How Memories Can Cause You Stress

Stress is just a part of everyday life. In fact, stress can be caused by just about anything that you experience or feel. You might be stressed out by school, a heavy workload, relationships, or financial problems. But you might also experience stress as a result of your memories and events that have happened in the past.

You might be wondering how that’s even possible. So, let’s go over how memories can actually increase your stress levels.

Ruminating Thoughts

When it comes to minor events that might happen in your life, you probably push them to the back of your mind after a few hours, days, or even weeks. Months or years later, you might not even remember anything about what happened. But this might not be the case if you suffer from a severe form of anxiety.

For example, you might have said or done something years ago that you were embarrassed by at the moment. Now, years later, you feel intense emotions and stress whenever you think about that moment. Anything that triggers those memories suddenly activates the stress response in your body.

Sometimes, the memory is triggered for absolutely no reason at all. When this response happens, it feels as if you’ve suddenly returned to the moment in time when the event actually occurred.

And that can be quite overwhelming, especially when you’re reliving that situation dozens or hundreds of times. 

This is known as “rumination” and it usually seems much more intense if you’re an emotional or sensitive person. What you did or said in the past still haunts you while everybody else in the scenario has moved past it.

Unresolved Emotions

When you directly cope with a serious event as it happens, you’re able to successfully work through your emotions and move on with your life. But it seems much easier on your mental and emotional health to push the event aside and pretend it’s not happening. 

This denies you of the chance to face your intense emotions head-on. But it’s simply not that easy. You can’t just avoid your emotions entirely!

In instances where you’re experiencing a loss or a traumatic event, forcing yourself to stay in the denial stage definitely saves you a ton of heartache. Yet, you’re never given the chance to work through your emotions and actually feel what you’re feeling.

When you think about the loss or event later on, the stress response is even more severe.

This is sometimes seen in “incomplete grief.” It might feel as if you’re reliving the loss every time you think about it. You might even find yourself wondering if there was anything else you could have said or done to prevent it from occurring.

The Next Steps

If you find yourself in a situation where your memories are a consistent source of stress, you need to find a way to work through your emotions and free your mind. The most important thing you can do is to cope with an event or situation as it happens.

Here’s how you can do that (and prevent stress as a result of your memories)

  • Admit to your mistakes and apologize to those you’ve hurt.
  • Allow yourself the chance to feel.
  • Try to avoid thinking about what you could’ve said or done differently.
  • Take responsibility for your actions.
  • Vow to be better in the future.

The goal is to focus on taking accountability for what happened and making changes in the future. In essence, this can help you to shift your focus toward the present and the future instead of ruminating on the memories from the past.

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