Protect Your Memory With These Stress-Reducing Strategies

Reducing stress can make the memory process more efficient and help protect the brain from the harmful effects of chronic stress. The following strategies can help you learn to manage stress and reduce its potentially harmful effects on your brain and on your memory.

Take charge of your life. Try to make your own decisions and avoid overly stressful situations. Feeling in control of your daily life can reduce stress.

Seek counseling for help with chronic stress.

Strengthen your social support network. Social support reduces vulnerability to the damaging effects of stress, and the risk of developing memory problems. Become more socially active, and reach out to friends and loved ones.

Think happy thoughts. Optimism is a key factor in resiliency that helps you to bounce back from stress. A study published online April 24, 2017 in Nature Human Behavior compared a group of volunteers who were subjected to a stressful task and immediately reminisced about a positive experience, to a similar group who followed their stressful task with a neutral memory. The happy-memory participants reported feeling better, and analysis showed that their stress hormone levels were 15 percent of those in the neutral memory group. Negative thinking habits can leave you feeling helpless and depressed—a mental state that can impair memory and other brain functions.

Stay physically and mentally active. With your doctor’s permission, work your way up to 30 minutes or more a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to reduce stress and promote the growth of new neurons in the brain. Work out your brain with a variety of mentally challenging activities, such as puzzles and word games.

Eat a nourishing diet high in antioxidant-rich foods such as berries, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid excessive sugar, alcohol, and unhealthy fats.

Learn a relaxation response technique (such as meditation, tai chi, or yoga) and use it daily to counteract the harmful effects of stress. “Our studies have shown that eliciting the relaxation response represents an important therapeutic strategy for dealing with many stress-related conditions, and we have hope that it can work as part of a prevention strategy for age-related memory problems if started early enough,” says Dr. Fricchione. (See What You Can Do for an example of a simple relaxation technique to reduce stress.)

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