Memory Maximizers: The Effects of Smiling in the Morning; Setting Simple Goals to Improve Memory

Here's the latest research to help you keep your brain sharp.

Starting Your Morning with a Smile May Help Your Memory All Day Long

When you expect to have a stressful day, your brain may have a tougher time retaining information acquired during that day. A study published in the Journals of Gerontology found that in addition to a more difficult time with memory, your other brain functions may suffer if you start your day anticipating it will be a stressful one. Researchers also noted that it doesn’t matter how stressful the day actually was if your mindset was such that stress was a likely outcome. It seems that“waking up on the wrong side of the bed” affects working memory, which is how people learn and retain new information in the face of distractions. And carrying around concerns about problems you think the day will bring can be a major distraction, the researchers found. Previous studies have shown how stress or stressful expectations can effect mood and even physical health. This is one of the first studies to demonstrate how anticipating stress may affect everyday function—in this case, working memory. For this study, researchers gathered 240 diverse adults and checked in with them daily for two weeks to get a sense of how stressful or calm they expected the day would unfold. They also completed working memory tasks throughout the day. Stressful anticipation in the morning was associated with poorer working memory performance, but stressful anticipation from the previous evening did not seem to affect working memory. While it may be difficult to greet every day with low-stress expectations, the research suggests that some relaxation exercises first thing in the morning may be the best way to start your day. Likewise, if you are anticipating a very stressful day, you may want to reschedule tasks (if possible) that require high levels of working memory.

Set Simple, Realistic Daily Goals if Memory and Cognition Have Declined

If you find that your memory and other brain functions, such as decision-making and concentration, aren’t quite what they used to be, simplifying your life may make a big difference. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends setting realistic goals for yourself and avoiding multitasking. For example, when faced with a challening task, be realistic about whether you may need some help in accomplishing that task. Don’t be discouraged that you need assistance. Instead, welcome the offers of assistance that your friends and family may have offered you in recent years. The Alzheimer’s Association also recommends establishing a daily routine with a few tasks or appointments on each day’s calendar. Having a routine or a schedule can cut down on the time you’d spend trying to remember or figure out what to do next and when to do it. As much as possible, stick with one task at a time until it is finished. The more tasks you set before yourself, the more taxing it can be on your memory and your ability to concentrate. You should also accept that some things may take longer to do than they once did, and that you often get more than one opportunity to be successful at a particular task.

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