Memory Spring Monthly

Reduce Stress to Improve Your Memory - 10 Helpful Tips

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Stressed Out by Helga Weber

Stress is an issue that we all deal with on a daily basis; however, most of us don't realize the impact that stress has on our memory. Stress is interpreted in many different ways but in human terms it is the body marshalling its resources to deal with a real or perceived threat. Stress plays a significant role in our ability to learn, store, and recall information when we need it. 

In short bursts, stress is actually healthy and an important part of our life.  It gets us excited, sharpens our senses, enhances our concentration, improves our memory and helps us perform at extraordinary levels. Physiologically, stress promotes the secretion of certain neurotransmitters (Norepineprhrine) that are required to create new memories.  They also have a positive impact on mood and perceptions which support creative thinking and problem solving. Creative thinking and problem solving stimulate brain development.
 
In stressful situations hormones are produced such as adrenalin, cortisol, and others which increase breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, alertness, and energy. We get quick bursts of energy, heightened memory functions, and lower sensitivity to pain.  At the same time, the body shuts down functions unnecessary for the emergency such as our growth, reproduction, and the immune systems. 
 
Stress over extended periods of time (chronic) wreaks havoc on our system, memory and brain health. Extended shut downs of perceived unnecessary functions compromise those systems and we begin to pick up sickness, rashes, and other ailments. In addition stress related hormones maintained at higher levels due to the chronic stress take their toll on areas of the brain that play an important role in memory. As a result, we have more difficulty thinking, learning, and accessing long term memories. 
 
In many cases a proactive approach to reducing and managing your stress can reverse many of the stress related memory issues.  It takes organization, consistency, the right attitude, and finding the right thing for you.  Below are a few tips from Mental Health America on reducing and/or controlling stress.

 
1) Be realistic. If you feel overwhelmed by some activities (yours and/or your family's), learn to say NO! Eliminate an activity that is not absolutely necessary. You may be taking on more responsibility than you can or should handle. If you meet resistance, give reasons why you're making the changes. Be willing to listen to other's suggestions and be ready to compromise.  

2) Shed the "superman/superwoman" urge. No one is perfect, so don't expect perfection from yourself or others. Ask yourself, "What really needs to be done?" How much can I do? Is the deadline realistic? What adjustments can I make?" Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it. 

3) Meditate.  Just ten to twenty minutes of quiet reflection may bring relief from chronic stress as well as increase your tolerance to it. Use the time to listen to music, relax and try to think of pleasant things or nothing. You can even use your imagination and picture how you can manage a stressful situation more successfully.   

4) Take one thing at a time.  For people under tension or stress, an ordinary workload can sometimes seem unbearable. The best way to cope with this feeling of being overwhelmed is to take one task at a time. Pick one urgent task and work on it. Once you accomplish that task, choose the next one. The positive feeling of "checking off" tasks is very satisfying. It will motivate you to keep going.  

5) Exercise. Regular exercise is a popular way to relieve stress. Twenty to thirty minutes of physical activity benefits both the body and the mind.  

6) Hobbies. Take a break from your worries by doing something you enjoy. Whether it's gardening or painting, schedule time to indulge your interest.  

7) Healthy life style. Good nutrition makes a difference. Limit intake of caffeine and alcohol (alcohol actually disturbs regular sleep patterns), get adequate rest, exercise, and balance work and play.  

8) Share your feelings.  A conversation with a friend lets you know that you are not the only one having a bad day, caring for a sick child or working in a busy office. Stay in touch with friends and family. Let them provide love, support and guidance. Don't try to cope alone. 

9) Give in occasionally. Be flexible! If you find you're meeting constant opposition in either your personal or professional life, rethink your position or strategy. Arguing only intensifies stressful feelings. If you know you are right, stand your ground, but do so calmly and rationally. Make allowances for other's opinions and be prepared to compromise. If you are willing to give in, others may meet you halfway. Not only will you reduce your stress, you may find better solutions to your problems.  

10) Go easy with criticism. You may expect too much of yourself and others. Try not to feel frustrated, let down, disappointed or even "trapped" when another person does not measure up. The "other person" may be a wife, a husband, or child whom you are trying to change to suit yourself. Remember, everyone is unique, and has his or her own virtues, shortcomings, and right to develop as an individual.   

For more information on reducing and/or controlling stress, go to Mental Health America's site at www.nmha.org. In addition, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to access other resources.