For example, let's say you're not being supported by your boss at work. Your mind will refer to the past to see how you’ve handled similar situations. Additionally, let’s say your brain finds memories of never being supported by your father, causing you to feel more stressed and upset about the situation than usual. This in turn can lead you to act out perhaps, worry more, sleep less, or shut down your ability to access higher thinking and cognition.
The resulting elevated stress levels lead to higher cortisol levels, which can then destroy your memory. So not only do stress and fear alter what you remember but also how, and if, you remember.
Positive experiences in the past will have a different effect. If, for example, you had an experience in which you didn't feel supported but were able to work through it and find the support you needed, your stress response would be very different. Your memory would connect the situation with a positive outcome, both emotionally, psychologically, and physiologically, leading you to use the memory to expect good from the situation. This keeps stress levels down and dopamine levels up, a neurotransmitter that modulates the functions of the brain related to movement, reward, cognition, and likely also memory.
Interestingly, the experience of love seems to have an even more powerful effect, likely because love induces feelings of pleasure and security, leading to further feelings of positive belief. Love also stimulates oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress response activity, protects dopamine neurons, and reduces anxiety. That means more access to your positive memories, higher cognition and thinking, and healthier memory.
What does this mean for you?
Not only is it important for you to practice retrieving memory by actively using the neurons in your brain, but the more you can do to offset stress and access feelings of love, the better you'll serve your memory.
Here's more you can do to help your memory: