When Stress Makes You Forgetful

Am I getting dementia? Or have I just been going through too much stress?

Roxana prayed with us, and I can’t tell you how much she lifted my heart and my mind that week.

There is not a 50-year-old alive who doesn’t ask the question about dementia at least once a week, or whenever we’ve forgotten where we put the cell phone or the keys, or slipped up on someone’s name, or cannot remember the minute details the spouse remembers from 25 years ago.

Many of us, once we get beyond the age of 70 and up, will indeed be affected by dementia. It is no laughing matter. Some of my friends have parents or grandparents traveling the excruciating journey of watching a loved one’s brain fade into disuse, even though they were once bright, smart, with it, and on top of their game or career.

But this time, I think my forgetfulness was due to another fiend: stress.

What happened was I needed to schedule a follow-up with my dentist for prep work for a crown, and then for delivery of the crown. My dental insurance first had to approve the work. After I got that okay back in August, I tried calling the dental office, only to learn via voice message that they were all out on vacation (small office, one dentist). I made a mental note to call them back when their vacation was over.

By early September, I knew I needed to call them. When I did, the receptionist said I’d already set it all up. I had no recollection of having set up that appointment. I didn’t even check my calendar before calling, because I didn’t think it had been set up. But the receptionist told me the date for the crown work and the follow-up appointment.

I belatedly looked in my desk calendar, and there were both appointments, already penciled in! And I had even entered them into my electronic office calendar. I was very surprised.

According to the receptionist’s records, I had called on August 9. At last I understood. My mother and sister arrived August 14. I had just returned from the birth of our fourth grandson in North Carolina on July 30, and he was still in the hospital. I was reeling from worry, stress, and not a little house cleaning (to get ready for company, of course). And garden work. Stress.

Those stress questionnaires that you take would have marked me pretty high: serious illness/hospitalization in the family, birth of a new family member, company coming, change in financial status (husband’s retirement), yada yada.

I recently learned of an acquaintance who suddenly died of a massive heart attack in her mid-70s. Her husband, very high up in the ranks of his civic club and campaigning for an even higher national office, had recently also been very ill. In fact, he was hospitalized when she succumbed. I feel very strongly that since she had shown no other signs of illness or problems, she was very likely affected by that too-often dangerous and often fatal illness: caregiver stress. I feel so sad for the family.

Our volunteer parish associate—who helps relieve the load for our very busy pastor (a mother with two children, three years and ten months)—met with me and my husband to give us a chance to share our concerns. Roxana prayed with us, and I can’t tell you how much she lifted my heart and my mind that week. It was as if I knew someone else was praying for us, and while I still wanted and needed to continue to pray, I didn’t feel like I had to pray to avoid neglecting the needs of my family.

Is there someone for whom you could lift a load? By prayer or reaching out to share coffee, or by taking them a covered dish? If you yourself need some stress relief, confide to a friend, your parents, your adult kids. Don’t be afraid to receive help.

Finally, I’ll share some of my favorite ways to manage stress from a bookmark of one hundred tips I’ll be happy to send you. Here are the first 10 things on that list:

  1. Take 10 deep breaths.
  2. Visualize a relaxing scene.
  3. Learn to say no.
  4. Stay clutter-free. (This could induce stress, too, of course, but work at it gradually.)
  5. Read good books.
  6. Stretch.
  7. Write in a journal.
  8. Put your feet up.
  9. Laugh more often.
  10. Watch clouds go by.


Stressed out? Share your story, or request a free copy (or several) of the “101 Ways to Manage Stress” bookmark. Write to: MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.

More resources on stress. Another Way or MennoMedia does not necessarily endorse these sites.

An Actionable Guide to Staying Healthy At Work.

Treating and Living with Anxiety

7 Tips for Creating a Healthy and Positive Work Environment

A Healthy Home is a Happy Home: How to Optimize Your Home for Healthy, Stress-free Living