Major Harris, quarterback at West Virginia in the late 1980s, is a college football Hall-of-Famer. But in a pivotal game against Penn State, as the clock was running out, Harris blanked on what play he’d called. As his entire team went left — where he’d called it — he ran right. Disaster? No. He faked out the Penn State defense, broke five tackles and made a 30-yard touchdown run.
A stress response (to anything from pressure to win to relationship woes) can KO short- and long-term memories, but rarely is the outcome as positive as it was for Harris. For youngsters and old-timers alike, such negative responses to a stressful event (brain toot!) can alter how the brain receives, stores or ignores incoming information.
It might be because the chemicals secreted by the neuroendocrine system in response to perceived stress alter how your brain synapses can encode information and store it for retrieval. Oversecretion of cortisol and adrenaline (they surge from acute and chronic stress) prunes synapses in your hippocampus (your memory area) and increases your risk for cognitive decline.
So, the next time you forget where you parked your car or what your boss told you to do, ask yourself, “Am I responding to events with more stress than I realize?” If the answer is “yes”: Meditate (instructions at sharecare.com); give up stress-response habits, like eating added sugars, sleeping less and sitting around too much; spend time with friends and your honey; do something generous for someone in need. You’ll remember those good times vividly!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.