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How to improve your memory under burnout and stress

Stephanie Hsu
stress, burnout, brain health, memory

If you had to guess, would you say that burnout worsens your memory or improves it?

Based on Muse’s 2022 Brain Health Report, Americans ranked memory as the most important aspect of brain health. If you’ve been experiencing burnout, you might be inclined to believe that it's detrimental to your memory. On the other hand, you might recall moments of high stress or pressure when you surprisingly performed better and succeeded.

As it turns out, both cases of the effects of burnout on memory are true. Burnout can be both a negative force that contributes to cognitive impairment and a positive, supportive force for enhanced memory. Whether burnout affects your memory positively or negatively depends on factors like its severity, duration, and management.

Burnout is common in today's fast-paced world and can significantly affect our overall well-being, including memory. Learning techniques to improve memory despite burnout can make a huge difference in thriving, even in stressful situations. Explore how the Muse 2 headband / Muse S headband can help with managing stress and burnout. 

stress, burnout, brain health, memory

Brain health and cognitive abilities

The process of making memories

Before we explore how burnout and stress affect cognitive abilities, we must first understand how the brain creates memories in the first place.

There are two main types of memory: explicit memory and implicit memory. Explicit memories (also known as declarative memory) are long-term memories that require active effort to recall. Implicit memory (non-declarative memory) refers to memories that color events and guide our behaviors subconsciously.

For information to be stored in the brain for later recall, it goes through three stages: encoding, recording, and retrieval.

Brain focus and cognitive performance

The first stage of memory consolidation is the encoding stage. It’s in this stage that we’re exposed to information that we want to remember for the future. You can think of this as the stage for “inputting new data” into our system.

Burnout and stress in cognitive retrieval

Consider this stage as the filtering stage, where your mind sifts through the input data to consider what is important to store for long-term use. This can otherwise be thought of as the cold storage stage where we engrain information in our minds.

Flow state and cognitive abilities

This is the final stage of information processing and cognitive performance. Here, information can be retrieved when it is needed and the timing is right.

Re-integration of information

A fourth, distinct stage emerges when we consider the process of adding new information to our knowledge banks. Here, several aspects of information storage must be engaged, as our brains retrieve old information and encode new information into the existing knowledge.

Stress in their impact on cognitive abilities

Stress takes a significant toll on both mental and physical well-being, and it's no surprise that cognitive abilities are also affected.

Numerous studies have shown that stress can lead to cognitive impairment, including memory difficulties. When experiencing burnout and stress, the brain is overloaded with stress hormones, which can interfere with information consolidation and retrieval processes.

Burnout and stress can also alter the size and shape of different parts of the brain involved in information processing, such as the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala. These changes can further contribute to cognitive problems. [1]

<<Unlocking your brain: white matter VS grey matter >>

Follow-up research has indicated that burnout and stress can negatively impact declarative or working memory through the hippocampus, while emotional memories may be affected through changes to the amygdala. [2]

stress, burnout, brain health, memory

7 tips to improve your cognitive abilities and combat burnout and stress

To improve information consolidation and combat burnout and stress, prioritize a balanced and healthy lifestyle that supports
brain health. Here are a few essentials to get you started!

#1 Move regularly

Regular physical activity is closely tied to brain health as it enhances blood circulation, providing essential nutrients and oxygen to your body. Research has found that a 12-week aerobic program can lead to significant improvements in episodic memory for individuals dealing with cognitive impairment caused by stress-related health concerns. [3] Even just 30 minutes of movement five days a week can yield benefits. You can choose from various activities, ranging from traditional workouts like running or crossfit to mindful options like walking, yoga, or tai chi.

#2 Eat fruits and vegetables

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can positively impact memory. Consuming 6+ servings of these nutrient-packed foods has been associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline and impairment. [4] Vitamins like A, C, B, and E found in these foods act as anti-inflammatories, protecting the brain from oxidative stress. [4]

#3 Meditate for brain health

Several studies have confirmed that meditation supports brain health and can actually change the shape of our brains over time. For instance, research performed by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar found that consistent meditation practice increased the size of several brain regions, including the hippocampus. It also appeared to decrease the size of the amygdala. [5] 

A 2023 study from the Mayo Clinic showcased significantly reduced stress and burnout by 54% and improved quality of life and cognition among Health Care Professionals when using the Muse S Headband to support mindfulness techniques. An astounding 91.9% of participants reported feeling more relaxed after using our device, with 73% expressing their intention to continue leveraging Muse S beyond the study.

<< Discover how the Muse 2 Headband / the Muse S Headband could support your meditation journey >>

#4 Prioritize sleep

Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for memory consolidation. Sleep plays a vital role in memory processing. Lack of sleep can lead to increased sensitivity to stress, mood shifts, reduced patience, poor decision-making, and difficulty concentrating. Aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep each night to preserve memory and enhance stress resilience.

The Muse S headband is more than just a daytime meditation coach. At night, it guides you into a deep, restful sleep by offering sleep journeys, soundscapes, guidances and bedtime stories designed to help you shut off your busy mind and prepare you for bed.

<<Discover the latest research on how Muse S Headband revolutionizes sleep assessment at home>>

#5  Drink enough water (or add in some tea)

Dehydration can strain your brain, leading to reduced cognitive performance. Drinking enough water is important for brain function. Additionally, tea consumption has been linked to lower cognitive impairment risk in older adults.[6]

#6 Practice calming breathing exercises

Breathing exercises can calm an overactive and stressed nervous system. By intentionally taking deep, slow breaths, you can reassure and calm yourself during stressful moments.

Explore more breathing exercises on the Muse app > 

#7 Embrace mindfulness for stress relief

Mindfulness techniques can help you stay present and reduce stress by focusing on the here and now. It supports stress relief and enhances memory by improving focus and reducing distractions during the learning process.

By incorporating these tips into your lifestyle, you can protect your cognitive abilities and combat burnout and stress, leading to a healthier, more resilient brain and improved overall well-being.

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