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3 Ways to Improve Memory

3 Ways to Improve Memory

The human brain is one of the most mysterious and powerful tools in the modern world. This magical organ interprets reality through synapses and neurons, forming subjective thoughts, qualities, and memories, which form our identities. Using up to twenty percent of the energy we consume, our brain is always working and always changing. As we grow, the connections between regions of the brain reinforce each other, fortifying our memory, until a certain age at which, either naturally, through “disuse,” or through memory loss diseases such as Alzheimer’s, we begin to lose control of our memories. But we are not necessarily doomed to forget our brief passage through this life before our brain finally shuts down: here are three ways you can enhance your memory through lifestyle changes.

1. Self-Awareness

Understanding how your brain makes memories is crucial to improving memory function. As you experience the world, the sensory information received is encoded through your short-term memory—visually, acoustically, and semantically—and stored in various regions of your brain with your working memory. Through the long-term process of recollection, your brain reconstructs the memory from storage, meaning that the more times you access a memory, the more likely it is to change (the opposite is true of “commonplace” memories which you rarely revisit, such as this morning’s shower, yesterday’s commute, etc.).

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The act of recollecting is a helpful exercise in improving memory itself. What you notice in certain memories upon recalling them also affects their ability to be recalled. Becoming aware of what draws your attention to certain memories and choosing to focus on different points of view can force your brain to make new associations, thus strengthening your neural network and placing the memory in a context. Keeping a journal is possibly the best way to improve self-awareness, but literal self-awareness with mirrors, cameras, microphones, or audiences also improve the accuracy of memory.

Our memories fade with old age because our brain becomes less effective at encoding and retrieval as we discontinue learning. Learning and socialization arouse various parts of the brain—language, perception, problem-solving, motor coordination—all at once, and are undoubtedly the cornerstones of a bright, sharp, longitudinal memory.

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2. Stress Reduction

Stress has a significant detrimental effect on memory formation. If any strong emotion is present during an event, the neurons active during this event produce strong connections with each other. When the event is recalled, the neurons will more easily and speedily make the same connections (which can be disastrous for those suffering from PTSD or drug addiction withdrawal). These memories also tend to be warped or focused on extreme details rather than the greater context of the scene—another way self-awareness can promote healthy memories.

Get plenty of sleep! Neuroimaging studies have shown activation patterns in the sleeping brain which mirror those recorded during the learning of tasks from the previous day, suggesting that new memories may be solidified through such rehearsal. Coupled with a nightly recollection of the day prior, or even a dream journal, sleep can be a very powerful tool for managing memories.

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Meditation, a form of mental training to focus attention, also seems to increase the control over brain resource distribution, improving both attention and discipline. The changes are potentially long-lasting, as meditation may have the ability to strengthen neuronal circuits as selective attentional processes improve.

Playing music also improves various aspects of memory through abstract connections in the brain between acoustic, semantic, and language-processing regions. Research shows that children who participated in one year of instrumental musical training showed improved verbal memory, whereas no such improvement was shown in children who discontinued musical training.

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3. Diet and Exercise

Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive performance on encoding and retrieval of information, and has been found to regulate hippocampal neurogenesis, which promotes the survival of newborn neurons and helps form new memories. Physiological activity also provides the brain increased blood-flow and oxygen levels, which, along with the right diet, keep the brain healthy.

There are many “brain foods,” but only a certain group of fruits and vegetables provide direct benefits to the facilitation and maintenance of memory processes—flavonoids. Flavonoids are photochemicals found in plant-based foods and valued for their antioxidant properties,  and are found in onions, leeks, broccoli, parsley, celery, soybeans, citrus fruits, berry fruits, tomatoes, green teas, red wines, and cocoa. Glucose also plays an important role in improving memory, as it can pass from blood to the brain, providing energy and boosting neural metabolism.

Excess intake levels of fat and calories are harmful to memory function. Saturated fats and cholesterol are especially high-risk foods for the onset of Alzheimer’s, not to mention the myriad other health risks associated with these food groups.

Featured photo credit:  Businessman with confusing tangle of thoughts via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

Everyone experiences mental stress at one time or another. Maybe you’re starting a new career, job, or business, or you feel incredibly overwhelmed between work, parenting, and your love life (or a lack of it). It could even be that you simply feel that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it,  plus, on top of everything, nothing seems to be going the way it should!

Yup, we all experience mental stress from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you have the tools, techniques and knowledge that allow you to fully relieve it once it comes.

Here are 5 tips for relieving mental stress when it comes so you can function at your best while feeling good (and doing well) in work, love, or life:

1. Get Rationally Optimistic

Mental stress starts with your perception of your experiences. For instance, most people get stressed out when they perceive their reality as “being wrong” in some way. Essentially, they have a set idea of how things “should be” at any given moment, and when reality ends up being different (not even necessarily bad), they get stressed.

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This process is simply a result of perception and can be easily “fixed” by recognizing that although life might not always be going as YOU think it should, it’s still going as it should—for your own benefit.

In fact, once you fully recognize that everything in your life ultimately happens for your own growth, progress, and development—so you can achieve your goals and dreams—your perception works in your favor. You soon process and respond to your experience of life differently, for your advantage. That’s the essence of becoming “rationally optimistic.”

The result: no more mental stress.

2. Unplug

Just like you might need to unplug your computer when it starts acting all crazy, you should also “unplug” your mind.

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How on earth do you unplug your mind? Simple: just meditate.

It isn’t nearly difficult or complicated as some people think, so, if you don’t already meditate, give it a try. Whether you meditate for 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours, this is a surefire way to reduce mental stress.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to relax your body (resulting in less mental stress), while also reducing anxiety and high blood pressure.

3. Easy on the Caffeine

Yes, we know, we know—everyone loves a nice java buzz, and that’s okay, but there’s a fine line between a small caffeine pick-me-up and a racing heart and mind that throws you into a frenzy of mental stress.

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Try giving up caffeine for a while and see how you feel. And, if that’s completely out of the question for you, at least try to minimize it. You might find that lots of your mental stress mysteriously “disappears” as your caffeine intake goes down.

4. Attack Mental Stress Via the Back Door

That’s right: your body and mind are part of the whole being, and are constantly influencing and affecting each other. If you’re experiencing a lot of mental stress, try to reduce it by calming your body down—a calm body equals a calmer mind.

How do you calm your body down and reduce physical stress? A  great way to reduce physical stress (thereby reducing mental stress) is to take natural supplements that are proven to reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Three good ones to look into are kava-kava, St John’s wort, and rhodiola rosea:

  • Kava-kava is a natural plant known to have mild sedative properties, and you should be able to find it at your natural health food store or vitamin store. It’s available in capsules or liquid extract form.
  • St John’s wort is a natural flower used to treat depression. Again, it’s found at your local health store in capsules or liquid. Because it uplifts mood (enabling you to see the brighter side of all experiences) it helps relieve mental stress as well.
  • Rhodiola rosea is a natural plant shown to reduce stress and uplift mood, and Russian athletes have been using it forever. Like the other two supplements mentioned, rhodiola rosea can be found at your natural health store in capsule or liquid form.

While these supplements are all natural and can be very helpful for most people, always check with your health care provider first as they can cause side-effects depending on your current health situation etc.

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5. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

This tip has been around forever because it works. Nothing relieves mental stress like running, kickboxing—you name it. Anything super-physical will wipe out most of your mental stresses once the exercise endorphins (happy chemicals) are released into your brain.

The result: mental stress will be gone!

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed, try using some of the above tips. You can even print this out or save it to refer to regularly.

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