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  • In the midst of everything going on these days, you might have noticed something unusual happening.

  • Maybe you keep walking into a room and forgetting what you were looking for.

  • Or maybe you forgot the name of the movie you were watching last night.

  • If you feel like you've been more forgetful than normal recently, you're definitely not alone.

  • Forgetfulness is linked to a number of psychological conditions, including stress, anxiety, and

  • depressionthree things that are definitely exacerbated by the state of the world.

  • But if you have been feeling forgetful, just know that, as unsettling as it is in the moment,

  • you can probably expect to feel like your usual self again once life gets a little easier.

  • For the time being, thoughor during generally stressful timessome level of forgetfulness

  • is pretty common, and it can affect different aspects of your memory.

  • For instance, if you open a new tab in your internet browser and can't remember what

  • you were trying to search for, that's an issue with short-term memory.

  • Short-term memories form when proteins in the brain undergo chemical changes that strengthen

  • the connections between certain brain cells, or neurons.

  • Now, brain cells aren't physically connected, but molecules called neurotransmitters do

  • travel from one cell to another, using chemical pathways to transmit signals between cells.

  • And during the formation of memories, those pathways get modified, making it easier for

  • neurotransmitters to travel among specific groups of neurons.

  • As a result, those groups of neurons are easy to trigger at the same time.

  • When one of them fires, it activates the rest, and that group activation is the memory.

  • But anything you remember beyond about 30 seconds is part of your long-term memory.

  • Like, if you wore sunglasses yesterday and now you can't find them, that's an issue

  • with long-term memory.

  • Long-term memories form over time.

  • Unlike short-term memories, they involve actual physical changes in the cells of the brain,

  • including the growth of new connections.

  • A lot of this happens during sleep, when your brain's hippocampus replays recent experiences,

  • which helps neurons make those connections that commit those experiences to memory.

  • Unfortunately, that means that if you're not sleeping enough, that can make it harder

  • for you to remember things one day to the next.

  • But the process of memory formation is also easily influenced by other conditions that

  • the brain is dealing with, and two big factors are anxiety and stress.

  • Acute stress and anxiety activate molecules called corticotropins, which produce hormones

  • that tell the body to do certain things, like release the stress hormone cortisol.

  • That's useful when there's actually an emergency that your body needs to respond to.

  • But when this goes on for a long time, these molecules can mess with your memory.

  • That's because corticotropin also changes the shape of dendrites.

  • Those are the branch-like parts of a neuron that extend outward and allow neurotransmitters

  • to pass from one cell to another.

  • So, as a result, there's less transmission between cells.

  • That makes it hard for neurons to establish the chemical pathways they need to form memories.

  • So if you've been feeling a lot of stress, your brain may be struggling with making memories in the first place.

  • But it may also be struggling with retrieving them, because anxiety just disrupts cognitive

  • function in general.

  • It puts us in this state of heightened vigilance, where we tend to give more attention to negative

  • distractions even if they're not that importantlike an angry stranger on Twitter or an upsetting email.

  • And when your brain's resources are focused on distractions, it's much harder to use

  • those resources to access whatever's stored in your memory.

  • Memory can also take a double-hit in people experiencing depression, which also has become

  • more widespread since the beginning of the pandemic.

  • Like anxiety, depression messes with memory formation and recall, but in a different way.

  • Whereas anxiety disrupts the exchange of neurotransmitters between cells, scientists believe that depression

  • reduces the number of themespecially the ones that regulate mood, like dopamine and serotonin.

  • And with fewer neurotransmitters going between neurons, once again, it's harder for memories to form.

  • On top of that, similar to anxiety, depression can get in the way of memory retrieval by

  • distracting the brain with depressive thoughts so it can't focus on tasks at hand, including

  • those that involve memory recall.

  • That distraction can even interfere with what's known as prospective memory, which is your

  • ability to remember to do something in the future, like mail something at the post office or call a friend.

  • If any of this sounds familiar to you, know that, as frustrating as it feels, these are

  • natural responses from your body during hard times.

  • But just because it's natural doesn't mean that there's nothing you can do about it.

  • Ultimately, if you treat feelings of stress, anxiety, and depressionwith things like

  • talk therapy, meditation, good rest, or anything your physician might recommendyou can

  • start getting at what may be the root of the problem, and that may help your memory begin

  • to bounce back.

  • Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych!

  • SciShow Psych is just one of the shows we produce here at Complexly, and while you're

  • here, I want to tell you about one of our newer projects, calledHow to Vote in Every State.”

  • If you live in the U.S., you know voting can get complicated.

  • But no matter what state you live in, we have videos to help you navigate the process.

  • To check it out, follow the link in the description!

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Why Is It So Hard to Remember Things Right Now?

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    Miho Ishii posted on 2021/03/11
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