By Scott G. Halford
If you’ve been in a Neuroscience for Success™ program with me, you know I harp on “erasing” our brains every day for better brain productivity and mental fitness. It seems counterintuitive that erasing our brain helps us to remember things better, cope with everyday stressful demands and to be better thinkers. Researchers have found that resetting our stress hormone, cortisol, back to normal is critical for better memory and better overall functioning. And who doesn’t want that?
Rachel Anderson and her colleagues* confirmed what Mustafa Al’Absi and his co-researchers** found out. Very simply: the more cortisol we have on an on-going basis, the more impaired our working memory becomes, along with other impairments. Working memory is the part of brain activity that is essential to the highest functioning. It’s the part that allows for instant retrieval of elements of a conversation you just had in a meeting. It’s works like your desktop on your computer. All of the things that are open on it are there for quick and handy recall. If that part is impaired you can’t operate as quickly and sometimes bits of information are completely wiped out with high cortisol. If you’ve ever had that situation where someone swears that they had a recent conversation with you about some issue and you can’t recall it at all, your cortisol may be too high. So what do you do?
Erasing cortisol so that the stressors that hit us every day throughout the day means taking deliberate time for exercise. Work out. Take the stairs. Walk around the company’s campus. Do it briskly. Plan some downtime where no one can get a hold of you for ten minutes. By that, I mean switch off all your electronic devices and just reflect on the day. Sounds easy, but how often do you actually do that? It needs to be a daily erasing to reset. Once you get into the practice, you’re likely to find you can deal with difficulties better, access important information more rapidly, and you just don’t feel as foggy and stressed.
*Rachel M. Anderson, Andrew K. Birnie, Norah K. Koblesky, Sara A. Romig-Martin, and Jason J. Radley. “Adrenocortical status predicts the degree of age-related deficits in prefrontal structural plasticity and working memory.” The Journal of Neuroscience 34, no. 25 (2014): 8387-8397.
**Mustafa Al’Absi, Kenneth Hugdahl, and William R. Lovallo. “Adrenocortical stress responses and altered working memory performance.” Psychophysiology 39, no. 1 (2002): 95-99.