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Stress and Short Term Memory

We all know chronic stress is bad for our heart, our weight, and our mood, but how about our memory? Interestingly, acute stress can help you focus and remember things more vividly. Chronic stress, on the other hand, reduces your ability to focus and can specifically damage cells in the hippocampus, a brain structure critical to encoding short term memory.

When is stress chronic? When you feel out of control of your life. You may feel irritable or anxious. While every individual varies in their response the type and quantity of stress, there are some things you can do to feel more in control of your environment. This sense of empowerment can lower your stress, and as a result, help your memory.

What are some ways to feel in control and less stressed?

  1. Use a calendar to schedule important things. Give items a date and a priority.
  2. Make a list of things that need to be done. Even if it’s a long list, it can be rewarding to cross off items as you complete them.
  3. Use a contemplative practice like yoga or meditation to calm your mind and body or try using a heart rate variability sensor to learn to relax and focus your mind and body.
  4. Ask yourself how important something truly is to you. Maybe you’re stressing over something that you are better off just letting go.
  5. Delegate what you can.
  6. Get regular exercise to burn off those excess stress hormones.
  7. Get enough sleep so that you can recharge your batteries.
  8. Eat well and reduce your caffeine and sugar intake which can add to your sense of jitteriness.
  9. Maintain your social network. Sharing concerns with friends and family can help you feel less overwhelmed.
  10. Give yourself 10 minutes just to relax every day.

Further Reading on Stress and Memory
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky, Ph.D.
A Primer on Multitasking
Simple Stress Test
Quick Stress Buster
Is there such thing as GOOD stress?
Brain Yoga: Stress — Killing You Softly

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