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Fight Depression By Improving Your Memory – Here’s How

Donna Morrison 1
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Depression isn’t a rare disorder.

Many people hide their depression

The World Health Organization has found that approximately 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Depression affects all areas of the brain, from making decisions and planning future actions to organizing thoughts and memory.

Scientists have been looking at the connection between depression and memory in hopes of improving treatments and understanding the deep connections between our mind, mood, and memory.

There could be many contributing factors to why memory is affected by depression including the overtaking negative thoughts, lack of concentration, serotonin levels, and mood.

Overtaking Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts are very common for those suffering from depression. These thoughts are hard to get rid of, as they are intrusive and overwhelming. The Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas recently conducted a study that showed that depressive thoughts are maintained for longer periods of time in people suffering from a depressed mood.

These thoughts can persist to the point that they restrict a person’s ability to maintain a train of thought.

Concentration

The negative thoughts that tend to overtake a depressed persons mind can be incredibly distracting. People with depression often feel as though they can’t focus on what’s happening around them. This can result in relationships suffering if people view this distraction as a lack of interest. This lack of concentration can also result in an inability to remember new details that are given to them.

Serotonin

People suffering from depression generally have reduced serotonin levels. Serotonin is a brain chemical that is responsible for regulating blood flow to the brain cells.

In depressed people, there is often reduced brain cell activity in the frontal lobe, located behind the forehead. The frontal lobe is also responsible for storing memories. This confirms that there is a connection between depression and loss of memory functions. Medical imaging technology has allowed indirectly monitoring the blood flow in the brain to see the connection between depression and memory.

Mood

The mood we are in tends to affect what we remember.

When we are happy, we remember happy events and when we are sad, we remember sad events. A person with depression tends to recall mainly negative and unhappy things and experiences. This fuels the depression by encouraging a negative view on life.

It can also appear as memory loss since the person suffering from depression has little to no recollection of the positive and happy things that have happened.

Overcoming The Memory Problems

The first step to overcoming the memory problems associated with depression is to treat the depression. Depression is a very treatable condition, with many approaches including medication and psychotherapy.

Finnish researchers have recently conducted a study that confirms memory function improves with the treatment of depression.

The study included 174 adults suffering from major depression. At the beginning of the study, the patients were tested on their memory and all performed poorly. Over the course of six months, the patients were treated for their depression and then retested.

Those who had experienced an improvement in depressive symptoms also improved their scores on the memory test.

Science is coming a long way in helping us better understand why memory loss is happening and helping us restore our brain to a higher level of functioning. Memory loss can make depression seem that much worse but it doesn’t need to be a permanent impairment.

Memory function can be restored as the depression is treated, whether that is with the use of antidepressants or psychotherapy.

Being honest with people about your lack of focus is a good way to retain relationships while going through this hard time.

Natural Methods To Boost Memory Function

What You Eat

You Are What You Eat

What you eat plays a big part in your memory. Certain foods, such as processed foods containing trans fats, sugar and grain carbohydrates, can contribute to memory loss.

We are all well aware of all the studies that have been done showing us that dietary trans fats are bad for us. The studies have shown us that trans fats can lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular health problems; however, it’s not just our hearts that are at risk. There have also been studies done to show that consuming trans fats directly affects our brain’s ability to remember.

What Are Dietary Trans Fats?

While some meat and dairy products contain small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats, most are an artificial fat created in an industrial process. This process aims to make vegetable oils more solid by adding hydrogen to them. These trans fats are primarily found in processed foods, from ready-made frostings, chips, and microwave popcorn to French fries, refrigerator dough, and non-dairy creamers, as “partially hydrogenated oils.”

Companies use these dietary trans fats to give food a more desirable taste and texture. Not only are these trans fats easy to use, but also they are also inexpensive to produce and last a long time.

Although they seem like a good idea from a business standpoint, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a decision in March 2016 that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in human food, giving companies until 2018 to completely phase out the use of the trans fats.

Trans fats may increase the shelf life of foods, but they have been proven to have nothing but a negative effect on the human body. Limiting the consumption of these fats is estimated to be able to prevent 10,000-20,000 heart attacks and 3,000-7,000 coronary heart diseases per year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Based on the studies referenced above, limiting our consumption will also have positive effects on the cognitive functions of the human brain, including memory.

Reading your food labels is the only way to ensure you aren’t consuming high levels of dietary trans fats.

Other foods are considered superfoods in terms of boosting memory function:

Walnuts: High in omega-3 fatty acids and poly-unsaturated fats, walnuts have been shown to reverse brain aging in older rats. DHA, a type of omega-3 fat has been shown to boost memory, concentration, and cognitive abilities.

Blueberries: Full of antioxidants, which protect the brain from stress-related damage; blueberries improve learning and memory by enhancing the communication between neurons. Also, low in fructose, they are one of the healthier fruits available.

Avocado: Encouraging blood flow throughout the body, including the brain. Increased blood flow helps ensure the brain has the oxygen it needs and boosts memory.

Water: Aside from being great for our body as a whole, water also significantly impacts brain function. Toxins, which can have the ability to inhibit the ability to concentrate and think, are flushed out of the body when we drink water.

Meditation

Meditating teaches the art of clearing your mind. If you are someone, who is consistently overwhelmed trying to multitask or find your thoughts constantly straying, meditation is a great way to learn how to focus your concentration.

When you meditate, you learn how to let go of intruding thoughts. If you apply these lessons to other parts of your life, you will find your concentration and memory improving.

The brain is the central control of your entire body, and as you may guess, plays a major role in the stress we experience on a daily basis.

This might explain why one scenario may be extremely stressing to one person, and a pinch of sand to another. It has a lot to do with the way the brain has been conditioned to respond to these stressful stimuli.

By taking part in de-stressing activities, such as yoga or meditation, you too can train your brain to not signal the release of stress hormones for every little thing in life.

The result? 

Sharper mental acuity and a healthier physical self.

Sleep

Sleep is known to help improve your memory. A study that was published in the journal Science showed that when we sleep our brain rids itself of toxins that build up when we are learning. 

It also demonstrated that our brain creates new connections and learn, while we are asleep. Studies have also shown that our brain commits short-term memories into long-term memories while we sleep.

Sleep

All our lives we have been told that we need to make sure we get enough sleep. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep ensures our bodies are rested, and we have the energy to get through the day ahead.

Not only is getting sleep important to our physical being, but studies done by the American Physiological Society suggest getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for our brain’s memory function as well.

When we sleep, our brain is able to process the information from the day and form memories. When we don’t get enough sleep, our brain becomes foggy which impairs our ability to learn and retain new information.

The first thing to know is that there are three different types of memories we can have:

Fact-based memories are memories such as the things we would learn in school. The state capitals, or people’s names and birthdates.

Episodic memories are things we experience or events that take place. For example, your first kiss, a fight with a friend or the birth of a child.

Procedural memories are also known as instructional memories. This covers things like how to ride a bike, use a computer, or drive a car.

In order for anything to become a memory, three functions must occur:

Acquisition:

Acquisition is the actual act of learning or experiencing something new. For example, it is the actual moment you experience your first kiss or someone tells you his or her name.

Consolidation:

Consolidation is when the memory “sticks” or becomes stable in your brain, allowing you to remember the details of your memories.

Recall:

Recall means being able to remember a memory in the days, weeks, and years after it occurs. Recall can be clear or blurry and sometimes the facts may not all be right, depending on the consolidation step of creating memories.

Acquisition and recall happen while we are awake, but researchers believe that consolidation occurs while we are asleep.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure why sleep allows us to retain memories better, or even what part of our sleep cycle is used for memory retention.

However, a study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center taught twelve healthy, college kids a sequence of finger movements. After 12 hours, the subjects, some of whom slept and some of whom didn’t, were tested on their ability to recall the finger movements while an MRI was used to measure their brain activity.

The MRI results showed that some areas of the brain were distinctly more active after a period of sleep, and those who had slept showed improvements in their motor skill performance. Which demonstrates that sleep is directly linked to our memories, even if we don’t know exactly why or how.

Making sure to get enough sleep can be hard. Here are some tips to help you get a longer, better quality sleep:

• Get regular exercise, but avoid exercising too close to bedtime

• Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine before going to bed

• Create a cozy sleep environment. A cool, dark and comfortable space promotes a good night’s sleep

• Do not watch TV or use the computer in bed

• Use a sound machine to block out unwanted sounds, such as traffic from outside

• Take time to unwind before bed

• Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day

Getting the right amounts of quality sleep can be a challenge, especially with all the things we have going on in our busy lives. Remember that sleep is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a big part of making sure your brain is healthy and retaining information and memories.

Exercise

A 2010 study on primates showed that exercise didn’t just encourage blood flow to the brain, it also helped the monkeys learn new tasks twice as fast as monkeys who were not getting any exercise.

In a separate study that spanned the course of a year, scientists were able to show that the brain’s memory center, which usually decreases in size, expanded 1-2% in individuals who regularly exercised.

To ensure you are getting the most from your workout incorporate strength training with stretching, core work, and cardio.

Exercise is well-known for improving your physical wellbeing, but did you also know that exercise directly improves the wellbeing of your brain too?

Yep, concentrating and working behind a desk all day isn’t enough to “exercise your mind”, but rather you need to focus on performing exercises that keep the brain sharp, free from disease and functioning optimally.

As we age, the ability of our brain’s to regenerate and for new cell growth is decreased significantly. However, research has found that regularly scheduled aerobic exercise sessions were able to significantly inhibit the loss of brain cells and associated shrinkage. 

After a period of six months, an increase in bran volume was reported in the group that performed regular aerobic exercise, compared to sedentary individuals who only perform light stretching or toning exercises.

Exercise Can Prevent Incidence Of Debilitating Depression

Ever notice that mega high you feel after successfully completing a workout, a run, or any type of workout? That is your brain on its happy hormone, serotonin, and dopamine.

When these levels of neurotransmitter hormones are high, your brain functions optimally with focus, quick calculating and the ability to recall information effortlessly.

Suffers of depression have reduced levels of serotonin especially, which typically lead to sluggish response time, mental fog and inability to concentrate. It is for this reason that exercise is regarded as an effective mood enhancer and natural remedy for depression.

Mental Stimulation

Stimulating your brain is a great way to keep it active. Eventually, without enough stimulation, your brain will begin to deteriorate. You can reverse this degeneration by spending at least twenty minutes a day doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku’s, or picking up a craft or hobby.

My personal favorite by a long shot is playing video games. They increase cognition and problem-solving skills. Strategy based games, which requires you to think out of the box and figure out “puzzles” are especially effective, and can even improve your fine motor coordination.

So next time your kid wants a new video game, don’t’ sulk; rejoice in the fact that you are likely raising a genius AND it will help them overcome their depression.

Try Not To Multi-Task

Let’s face it; living in today’s high-paced world we are frequently faced with the dilemma of multitasking.

Some reportedly “excel” at multitasking, specifically, women, while some struggle quite a bit.

Multi-Tasking refers to the ability of our brain’s to focus on more than one task, with the end goal of not losing measurable performance in any task. However, research has shown that multi-tasking is not good, especially when trying to juggle more than two tasks.

Multi Tasking

Multi-Tasking Results In Poor Focus. When we are assigned a task, our brain activates two structures towards the front known as the prefrontal cortex. This area can be categorized as the left, and right side. When we focus on one task, both sides become engaged, allowing us to efficiently complete it.

In contrast, if concurrently performing two tasks, MRI studies have revealed that each lobe (either the right or left) focuses on one task, without measurable loss of focus or working memory.

Think of it as a computer with 2 units of “memory.”

If you use just one application (a task), the computer is able to easily complete it. Two tasks and it still manages to do them, albeit with slower response times.

However, who says our hectic lives are restricted to just doing two tasks at the same time?

In fact, it is common to juggle 3, 4, or even more tasks at the same time.

The result?

The lobes are frequently juggling between tasks, making it extremely difficult to complete any, or worse, even remember what the task was!

Multi-Tasking Results In Loss Of The Executive Functioning Of Your Brain. Executive functioning refers to the ability of the brain (in particular the frontal cortex) to prioritize goals, manage time and get things done.

When the brain is inundated by rapid-fire changes in objective, it becomes less and less capable of delegating tasks that are more important over others.

Basically, it becomes a CEO with way too much on his plate. The result is a “burn-out” of sorts, setting a cascade of negative effects to follow.

Surely, you have felt the effects of overwhelming pressure from taking on too much at once. This is one of the most frequent, and first to appear effects of multitasking. Increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol lead to rapid burnout, feelings of overwhelm, can contribute to depression, and may even precipitate a nervous breakdown.

Try to prioritize goals and objective by hourly and daily ones and your stress levels can be modulated and managed.

Perhaps the biggest myth multitaskers believe is that they are becoming more efficient in multiple tasks at the same time. The reality, however, is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. In simplest terms, multitasking is just the rapid fluttering on your prefrontal cortex from one task to another, but not rapid enough.

What does that mean?

It means every time you switch between goals, you are actually wasting time (albeit milliseconds) to open that new task “window.” Similar to opening multiple tabs on a browser window and switching between them often. You are wasting time, although you may not notice it.

The key to optimizing the potential working memory of your brain, and enhancing executive function if to prioritize. Do important tasks first, and then read an email with all the milliseconds you’ve saved!

Final Thoughts

Depression and anxiety can cause memory loss and attention deficits, resulting in impaired cognitive health. Having these conditions treated can help you achieve a healthier brain leading to better memory.

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  1. Hello Donna,

    I enjoyed you’re article very much, I was hoping to read something about nootropics in here – you know the new smart drugs that have cognitive enhancement effects.

    So I’d like to add that taking nootropic supplements should be on this list as a way to fight depression and improve memory.

    Regards x looking forward for more article by you!

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