February 28, 2018
A study in Brain Sciences 2018, 8(1), 6; doi:10.3390/brainsci8010006 by the University of Waterloo found that subjects who experienced manageable levels of stress were able to remember better and the stress can actually help them to remember better, while those with high levels of anxiety began to experience fear and their ability to remember words was negatively impacted.
There seems to be a balance point of stress where optimal access to memories occurs. Previous studies have shown that when a certain threshold of anxiety is reached, cortisol begins to flood the brain and the stressed individual is less able to access their memories until the cortisol decreases in the brain. Once a person is able to calm him or herself (resting heart rate of fewer than 100 heartbeats a minute), the cortisol can dissipate in 90 seconds.
How to apply this research:
• When you feel you have crossed into high levels of stress and are having difficulty accessing your memory, use relaxation breathing to calm your heart rate down. Taking your own pulse for 6 seconds and multiplying the count by 10 will give you your heart rate. Breathe slowly focusing on the movement of your stomach as you are doing this.
• If you have difficulty forgetting about what is stressing you, use the rapid eye-roll technique: roll your eyes straight up toward your eyebrows and hold them there until the eyes get tired and then let your eyes come down and your eyelids close. You will find that this clears the mind.*
• Know that you can get too relaxed. Two minutes is long enough for most relaxation techniques. If you get drowsy you will lose that optimal target level of moderate stress.
Stephen Willis M.MFT
Stress Solutions at Turning Point Counseling