The Power of Mindfulness for Boosting Memory and Concentration

We often hear about the mental benefits of practicing mindfulness throughout our daily lives, but did you know that mindfulness can also boost memory and concentration? Read on to learn more!

Mindfulness and Memory: The Basics

When experts talk about practicing mindfulness, they are generally referring to a variety of cognitive techniques humans can use to remain both present and actively engaged in their environments. Many individuals rely on meditation, exercise, or artistic outlets of expression to practice mindfulness on a daily basis.

Incredibly, practicing mindfulness provides benefits to both our short and long-term memories. According to recent studies published in the National Library of Medicine, “very brief training in a focused attention form of mindfulness also produced better recognition memory performance.” (Brown et al., 2016) In addition, these benefits also extend towards executive skills which include time management and organization. According to another recent study, “mindfulness meditation training improves executive attention.” (Norris et al., 2018) As we’ve discussed on this blog many times before, it is critical for students to develop executive functioning skills in order to achieve academic success! Click here to learn more about how executive training can help scattered students. 

In terms of long-term memory, research suggests that we are able to more effectively encode our memories while practicing mindfulness – especially when our attentional capacities are at their best. As a result, mindfulness greatly helps with the formation of episodic memory, or “the capacity to consciously re-experience past events.” As the researchers suggest, “mindful attention can beneficially impact motivation and episodic memory, with potential implications for educational and occupational performance.” (Brown et al., 2016)

To summarize, practicing mindfulness helps just about every aspect of your memory. Or as the researchers concluded, practicing mindfulness throughout our daily lives and “present events and experiences has been shown to improve attention and working memory. Both are key to long-term memory formation.” There’s no question about it – practicing mindfulness is healthy for your body and mind!

Let’s talk about stress

We can’t discuss mindfulness without talking about the elephant in the room: stress. Although the feeling of stress is a normal response to difficult moments, these heightened emotions can also skew how we view challenging situations.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to most, but stress does in fact make learning more difficult. After all, it’s much easier to forget something when feeling overwhelmed or “stressed out.” Researchers describe stress as a “potent modulator of learning and memory processes.” (Sandi & Pinelo-Nava, 2007) What exactly is going on, though? Well, it has to do with the way our brain prioritizes our thoughts and feelings.

It’s important to note that, in some situations, occasional stress can actually be a good thing for memory. When we experience acute bouts of stress, our brain actually releases corticosteroids that begin the signal chain for memory encoding. Think about it – feeling stressed before a big game or public speech is normal, but it can also help you to recall details in the heat of the moment. In many cases, emotional experiences like these (and the stress that comes along with them) can help memories form.

However, this is not the same for long-term, or chronic, exposure to stress. Unfortunately, students who are frequently stressed will likely experience negative effects on their memory and recall abilities. Research suggests that our hippocampus, the area of our brain responsible for encoding memories, becomes gradually impaired with long periods of stress. When we experience stress, our fight-or-flight response kicks in, which then inhibits our prefrontal cortex – the area responsible for retrieving memories. As journalist Katrina Schwartz describes, this is the reason “why we draw a blank during a stressful test.” So, what can students do to minimize their stress levels?

How mindfulness helps

As it just so happens, practicing mindfulness is one of the best ways to deal with stress! And there’s really no debate about this – according to the American Psychological Association, researchers reviewed over two hundred studies examining mindfulness and found it was effective for reducing stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue while also improving physical health and boosting the immune system. That’s quite the list! Put simply: practicing mindfulness is universally beneficial to our bodies and minds.

Want to get started practicing mindfulness? We’ve got a bunch of great resources to get started! Here are 10 mindfulness activities you can do with your kids. Or, check out mindfulness activities for teens and young adults!