Chances are, you’ve walked into a room and forgotten why you’re there. Or misplaced your keys. Or even forgotten someone’s name. It happens. And, it’s usually not cause for alarm. It can be pretty unnerving though.
Is there something wrong with my brain?
This question can scare us.
The good news is that occasional forgetfulness is normal. In most cases, it’s more bothersome than worrisome. One of the culprits may be stress. Research has found that stress can impact our short-term memory by affecting how we store information and the kinds of information we store. Stress takes up emotional space and makes it harder for the brain to do it’s best work. If you’re stressed out and struggling with memory, check out these tips for managing your stress from an Atlanta counselor.
Your brain requires nourishment and rest to remain healthy. Take good care of your body and brain by focusing on the “big three” – diet, exercise, and sleep. People who experience stress and memory issues often have problems sleeping. Taking care of your body helps to reduce the stress placed on your body and keeps it functioning well.
Practice Relaxation Strategies
Actions such as controlled breathing and meditation are known stress reducers. Studies have found that when under stress the brain does not store memories well. Using stress management techniques such as controlled breathing and visualization improved short term memory and learning. There are lots of controlled breathing strategies but here’s an easy belly breathing exercise to try:
- Sit or lie flat in a comfortable, relaxed position.
- Place one hand on your belly just above your navel. Place your other hand on your chest.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose. Focus on your hand on your belly and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
- Breathe out through your mouth as if you’re whistling. Feel the hand on your belly fall, exhaling completely.
- Take your time and repeat this breathing a few times.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool that you can use anytime you’re feeling stressed. Mindfulness simply means focusing your attention and awareness on the present moment. Mindfulness helps to build resilience so that you can better cope with whatever life brings. Mindfulness practice helps improve memory by reducing the stress that can block memory. It is also known for improving sleep which is critical to memory function.
One of the simplest ways to practice mindfulness is to practice the pause. Take a moment to pause and simply move your attention to what’s happening in the moment. Notice your breath. Notice your posture. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Stretch. Mindfulness is simply being present and open in the moment.
Reducing stress can improve your memory both for learning and for recall. Try practicing these memory-friendly stress reducers. Next time you’re struggling to remember something, remember to practice the pause. Take a moment and just breathe. You just might remember what you thought you’d forgotten.
Shields, G. S., Sazma, M. A., McCullough, A. M., & Yonelinas, A. P. (2017). The effects of acute stress on episodic memory: A meta-analysis and integrative review. Psychological Bulletin, 143(6), 636–675. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000100
Page, J.W., Asken, M.J., Zwemer, C.F. et al. (2016). Brief mental skills training improves memory and performance in high stress police cadet training. J Police Crim Psych 31, 122–126. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-015-9171-8