If you’ve been extra forgetful lately, you are not alone. Chronic stress, as well as anxiety and depression, can cause forgetfulness, confusion and difficulty concentrating. But before you resign yourself to a fate of perpetual lost keys and forgotten names, here are some strategies to help your memory and alleviate the worst of your pandemic-induced forgetfulness.
Figure out your own learning style
We all have our own ways of learning and remembering. Some of us have to say something out loud in order to remember; others may have to write it down, while others may be more visual. Whatever your learning style is, embrace it and figure out a system that will work with it, whether it is written or audio notes, flash cards and diagrams, or some other strategy that works for you.
If you are still figuring out your learning style, this questionnaire can help you understand more about what might work for you. Once you have a better understanding of what you need to do in order to remember details better, then figure out a system that works for you.
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Repetition is key
The more times you do something, the more likely you are to remember it. Repetition is what will help you shift these details from short-term memory, which lasts only about 30 seconds, into long-term memories, which will help you remember the important details, whether it’s a deadline that’s next week, the name of your new collaborator at work, or even just the five million tasks that need to be done around the house in order to keep everything from collapsing.
In these times, when it’s so easy to forget the details in the stress-filled blur that is life, repetition can be a lifeline. Don’t be afraid to lean on repetition in order to cope. Whatever helps you remember, whether it is saying something out loud, writing it down, or creating some sort of diagram, the more you repeat a detail, the more likely you will be able to remember it.
Sure, it can feel a little silly writing down everything, or saying something to yourself 10 times in order to get through your day, but hey, if that’s what it takes, then go ahead and do it. We are all just trying to get through our day, and repetition is one of the strategies that can help you with that.
Avoid unnecessary distractions
With each day bringing a fresh onslaught of bad news, we have more distractions than ever before, making it even harder to focus. That said, there are still ways in which you can reduce the number of distractions in your daily life.
One key strategy is to put boundaries on your smartphone use. Some studies show that internet use is making our attention span shorter and our memory worse. Although it’s almost impossible to live without the internet, putting some limits on usage can help. This could include putting away your phone at specific intervals, such as when you are working on a project and need to focus, or carving out a specific time when you limit your internet usage.
Another strategy is to limit multi-tasking to whatever extent you are able, which has also been shown to have an effect on memory retention. (Easier said than done, we know, especially for those juggling child care and work.) The fewer distractions you have, the better off you’ll be, and it’s always important to keep in mind that although you may not be able to eliminate all distractions, reducing them as much as you can will help in the long run.
Be patient with yourself
The good news is that stress-related memory loss is reversible, which means that reducing your stress will have the effect of helping you return to normal. Given that we are more than three months into a pandemic, however, with no clear end in sight, it will be a while before any of us can return to that pre-pandemic “normal” state. Until then, it’s important to be patient with yourself, and know that although you can’t always control the stressors, there are still strategies that can help with remembering all of the important details.