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Mental Health

Feeling stressed about the day when you wake up can hurt your memory, study says

It turns out it really is possible to wake up on the wrong side of the bed.

A recent study in The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences revealed that thinking that you’re going to have a stressful day when you first peel your eyes open in the morning can wreak havoc on your “working memory.”

Clueless about what this really means? Never fear: this specific thought process is a function “which helps people learn and retain information even when they’re distracted,” according to the study’s press release.

Here’s how things played out

As for how the research was carried out, 240 adults, ages 25 to 65, took a bunch of surveys on smartphones for two weeks at different moments of the day (at the beginning, during, and at the end). They also did working memory exercises multiple times daily. The National Institutes of Health aided the research, as well as other sources.

So what’s the big takeaway? The researchers discovered that predicting a stressful day when waking up was linked to “poorer working memory” later on, as the day unfolded.

The conclusions “suggest that anticipatory processes can produce harmful effects on cognitive functioning that are independent of everyday stress experiences,” according to the study.

But there’s a catch, of course: oddly enough, these findings only rang true when taking into account the stress that people were expecting at the beginning of the day, not when they were thinking about how difficult the next day could potentially be the night before.

Martin Sliwinski, director of Penn State’s Center for Healthy Aging, commented on the research in a statement.

In other words, if you think you are going to have a bad day, you’ve already set yourself up for failure. “When you wake up in the morning with a certain outlook for the day, in some sense the die is already cast…If you think your day is going to be stressful, you’re going to feel those effects even if nothing stressful ends up happening. That hadn’t really been shown in the research until now, and it shows the impact of how we think about the world.” He later added that they’re coming up with further research on how stress impacts people’s physiological states.

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