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5 Ways to Reduce Stress and Improve Your Memory

5 Ways to Reduce Stress and Improve Your Memory

Follow these 5 easy tips to protect your brain from stress-induced memory loss.

Whether you’re worried about your healthcare (that’s 78 percent of you), your finances (30 percent say it’s a constant anxiety while 40 percent go sleepless because of money woes), or your basic needs (40 percent of you believe you’re being underpaid in your jobs), you’re a candidate for Stressheimer’s—memory problems triggered by relentless anxiety.

According to researchers from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, among their study participants 70 and older, every 5-point increase in a person’s perceived stress score boosted the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment by 30 percent. Folks who had the very highest estimation of their daily stress levels were 250 percent more likely to suffer from cognition problems than lesser-stressed folks. But Stressheimer’s doesn’t just affect older folks.

In a 2007 study published in Acta Psychologica, researchers found that among 70 male students, acute psychosocial stress prevented them from remembering words they were tasked with memorizing when tested five weeks later. Peers not subject to acute stress recalled the words much more frequently. And even more interesting, an animal study showed that early life stress translates to late-in-life cognition problems. That may be because stress causes structural changes in the brain’s frontal cortex—and in the neurons themselves—when they’re overexposed to stress hormones.

A 2012 study by researchers from Dr. Oz’s Columbia University Medical Center found that chronic stress affects type 2 ryanodine receptors in the hippocampus, the brain region that plays a central role in learning and memory. These receptors are channels that regulate the calcium levels in neurons, which cells need to function and survive.

Turns out, memory is also affected by gender. Males’ retrieval of declarative memory (facts and events) is more affected by stress than females’, suggesting that perhaps sex hormones play a role.

What’s your memory like?
Are you finding yourself at a loss for words, or losing your train-of-thought more frequently? Are you increasingly bad at remembering names?

According to researchers at Gothenburg University in Denmark, while many 50- and 60-year-olds complain that their memory is not as sharp as before, during their four-year-study, only 10 percent of participants went on to develop true dementia. For 90 percent, their memory troubles were almost always related to major stress.

But here’s the good news: You can alter you stress response so it doesn’t damage your brain and memory.

How to dispel stress and protect your brain:

  1. Exercise. Get around 60 minutes of aerobic exercise four or more days a week—that burns off stress hormones.
  2. Meditate. Learn deep breathing, guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation—or at least one of the 12 techniques that help manage stress. Remember: Stress isn’t the event, it’s your reaction to it. Discover the world of choices by starting with “What Meditation Technique Is Right for Me?” at sharecare.com. Meditation lowers blood pressure, eases anxiety, improves mood, increases sleep quality and boosts your outlook on life.
  3. Identify stressors. Talk about them with friends or family, face to face, not through social media outlets. Socializing is the most powerful way of decreasing brain function from stress. You may benefit from keeping a stress journal. (Download one at www.mindtools.com; click on toolkits, then stress management.)
  4. Get help from a trained counselor. Ask friends and doctors for recommendations.   
  5. The tough one: Remove unnecessary stressors from your life. This is hard because it means you have to recognize the financial choices, activities, habits and addictions (digital, alcohol, drugs, gambling) that cause you unnecessary stress. If you’re chronically late or frequently nervous about seeing someone, going somewhere or doing something, those are telltale signs that you need to do a house cleaning.

No pressure, though—we don’t want to cause you stress. Download the free Cleveland Clinic Stress Free Now app at the iStore. Over several months you may see memory improvements. You can try the other steps, with professional help, if you think it’s needed.

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