26 February 2007

Work, stress, and your memory

You’ve heard this before: too much stress is bad for you; it lowers your resistance to illness and can give you insomnia and acne. But there are ways of dealing with it.

You’ve heard this before: too much stress is bad for you; it lowers your resistance to illness and can give you insomnia and acne. Severe can also mess up your recollection of events. But there are ways of dealing with it.

If you’ve ever been faced with a moment of sheer terror or trauma, the details may be etched indelibly in your memory. Or are they? New research seems to indicate that however well you may think you remember an event, what you remember is how you felt, rather than what actually happened.

This is one of the recent findings on stress, how it works and how it affects your performance. It seems to contradict other studies, which have found that personal, intense situations can produce memories of nearly photographic clarity.

Traumatic events – how could is your recall?
There could be some implications for the courts in this finding, says the magazine New Scientist, pointing out that prosecutors and juries often assume that witnesses or surviving victims have near-perfect recollections of traumatic events.

A Yale University experiment involving more than 500 pilots, soldiers and sailors at mock-ups of POW camps, found that memory is at best fallible when recalling the details of extremely stressful events.

The subjects, all being trained to withstand the stresses of capture, were deprived of sleep and food for 48 hours, then subjected to rigorous interrogation and in some cases, threats.

Study finds low recognition rates
The results were predictable enough: the subjects’ high rates and levels of adrenaline and cortisol soared. No surprises there, say the study’s authors.

What did surprise them was 24 hours after their release from the camp, only 30 percent of the subjects were able to identify their tormentors. When they could, it was mostly from the clothes their captors had worn, rather than from their faces or voices.

So, the conclusion is that stress is bad for memory. There are many, well-documented ways to stay calm: some are more appropriate for the office than others.

Some of the easiest involves the proprioseptive and kinaesthetic sensory systems.

The kinny-what? The kinaesthetic sense tells you whether your body is moving, speeding up or slowing down, even when you can’t see things around you.

The proprioceptive sense tells you what position your body is in and where your limbs are. So if you’re sitting with your head to one side you’ll know it, even with your eyes closed.

You can harness these senses to curb your stress levels. Try these moves:

  • Press your hands down on your desk. Do this for 30 seconds, then release.
  • Put your hands on your head and press down for 30 seconds, as though you’re trying to telescope your head into your shoulders for that Shrek look.
  • Sitting in an armless office chair, grab the sides and push yourself up off the seat. Hover like that until the veins in your forehead bulge or a minute passes.

These moves have a way of easing tension in a way that’s sometimes called depressurising your senses. Try them and you’ll feel calmer afterwards. If poor memory troubles you, a good vitamin supplement and some rest may help. Also, try learning to mindmap. It’s a logical way of taking notes and marshalling your thoughts.Those who use it, swear by it as the best way to plan, study, take notes and brainstorm. If that doesn’t work, chat to your doctor. (William Smook)


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