Reduce Stress and Keep Your Mind Sharp

June 16, 2020 Joe Brady

You can reduce stress and keep you mind sharp at the same time. According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, studies have shown that many common stress management techniques also serve to improve mental functions like memory and cognitive function and maybe even help prevent cognitive decline as we get older. In addition these have all been shown to benefit health in a wide variety of ways like:

  • staying physically active
  • getting enough sleep
  • not smoking
  • having good social connections
  • limiting alcohol to no more than one drink a day
  • eating a Mediterranean style diet.

Read on for tips from Harvard and Oxford Universities on how to keep your mind active through all the stresses and distractions that come with surviving the age of “Corona”. 

Harvard Medical Schools top six ways to keep you mind sharp:

1. Keep learning

A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active. Pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, volunteering or mentoring are additional ways to keep your mind sharp.

2. Use all your senses

The more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain that will be involved in retaining the memory. In one study, adults were shown a series of emotionally neutral images, each presented along with a smell. They were not asked to remember what they saw. Later, they were shown a set of images, this time without odors, and asked to indicate which they’d seen before. They had excellent recall for all odor-paired pictures, and especially for those associated with pleasant smells. Brain imaging indicated that the piriform cortex, the main odor-processing region of the brain, became active when people saw objects originally paired with odors, even though the smells were no longer present and the subjects hadn’t tried to remember them. So challenge all your senses as you venture into the unfamiliar.

3. Believe in yourself

Myths about aging can contribute to a failing memory. Middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when they’re exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, and better when the messages are positive about memory preservation into old age. People who believe that they are not in control of their memory function — joking about “senior moments” too often, perhaps — are less likely to work at maintaining or improving their memory skills and therefore are more likely to experience cognitive decline. If you believe you can improve and you translate that belief into practice, you have a better chance of keeping your mind sharp.

4. Prioritize your brain use

If you don’t need to use mental energy remembering where you laid your keys or the time of your granddaughter’s birthday party, you’ll be better able to concentrate on learning and remembering new and important things. Take advantage of smart phone reminders, calendars and planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information accessible. Designate a place at home for your glasses, purse, keys, and other items you use often.

5. Repeat what you want to know

When you want to remember something you’ve just heard, read, or thought about, repeat it out loud or write it down. That way, you reinforce the memory or connection. For example, if you’ve just been told someone’s name, use it when you speak with him or her: “So, John, where did you meet Camille?”

6. Space it out

Repetition is most potent as a learning tool when it’s properly timed. It’s best not to repeat something many times in a short period, as if you were cramming for an exam. Instead, re-study the essentials after increasingly longer periods of time — once an hour, then every few hours, then every day. Spacing out periods of study helps improve memory and is particularly valuable when you are trying to master complicated information, such as the details of a new work assignment.

For more information on cognitive function and boosting your memory, read Improving Memory, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Want to learn something new? Why not go to Oxford University? On line learning from around the world

Here is a sample of some of the on-line learning opportunities available from the Department of continuing Education at Oxford University in the U.K.

Keep your brain active with free online resources, as recommended by tutors and staff at Oxford Continuing Education.

Visit the world’s museums, libraries, language centres and more – and give your brain a workout – all from your own home. Compiled by academics and staff of Oxford Continuing Education, these freely available educational resources will help entertain you during challenging times.

The ‘Tutor Takeover’ will be updated every other day, and the entire page refreshed regularly – so please bookmark and check back regularly.  Sign up to our enewsletter to learn when new resources have been added.

Tutor takeover

Martin Ruhs highlights an Oxford-based project informing debates on international migration and public policy. 

Martin Ruhs, Associate Professor of Political Economy, says: ‘The Migration Observatory is an Oxford-based “impact project” that aims to inform migration debates and policy-making in the UK. Their website includes a large number of short and easily accessible briefings, policy papers, charts and videos that explain what we know and don’t know about migration, its drivers and consequences for the UK. A great resource for anybody interested in immigration and integration!’ 

> The Migration Observatory


Philosophy Bites

Marianne Talbot, our Director of Studies in Philosophy, recommends the Philosophy Bites podcast series which features short interviews with philosophers. From there, you might move on to the works of David Hume, or explore a selection of texts by philosophers of the early modern period. ‘Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living,’ Marianne tells us. ‘It is possible that the human capacity for reflecting on ourselves and our actions is unique in the animal kingdom. Philosophy guides such reflection. Everyone should try it at some point in their life.’

> Philosophy Bites

Writers Make Worlds

Ben Grant, Departmental Lecturer in English Literature, recommends the Writers Make Worlds website. This Oxford-based project showcases and provides resources on important contemporary Black and Asian British writing. The website states: ‘Writers such as Aminatta Forna and Andrea Levy, Daljit Nagra and Kamila Shamsie, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Bernardine Evaristo, have created work that fundamentally challenges prevailing ideas of British literature. They show us that British writing is not something produced only by white English authors, but has a diverse range of backgrounds and many different histories. This website offers ways into exploring this exciting work.’

> Writers Make Worlds

The Future of Artificial Intelligence

Discover how modern neuroscience is researching the way the human brain can comprehend a working environment with The Future of Artificial Intelligence talk by Simon Stringer. Recommended by Thomas Hesselberg, Director of Studies in Biological Sciences, this talk formed part of The Future of Science Symposium, hosted by the Dunn School Graduate Student Association. 

> The Future of Artificial Intelligence

The National Archives

Christine Jackson, Associate Professor of History, recommends The National Archives online platform – particularly the ‘reading old documents’ tutorials. The National Archives is also running a series of online talks and webinars and so far they have covered angles of WWII, 1970s music and culture, and drinks tasting alongside a showcase of relevant records in their archive. Upcoming events include Caribbean Connections and Discovering your Local History. 

> The National Archives

Curious Minds Podcast

In episode two of our new Curious Minds Podcast, Dr Toby Martin, Departmental Lecturer in Archaeology, talks about life in the early Medieval period: what homes may have been like in the 5th-7th centuries, who would have lived there, and how they may have spent their time.

> Curious Minds Podcast

The Night Watch

The Rijksmuseum has published the largest and most detailed ever photograph of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Made from a composite of 528 individual digital photographs, this incredibly detailed image allows you to zoom in on individual brushstrokes and particles of pigment. Led by data scientist Robert Erdmann, 24 rows of 22 pictures have been seamlessly stitched together digitally and the final image is a jaw dropping 44.8 gigapixels (44,804,687,500 pixels).

> The Night Watch


NASA offers educational resources and information about the missions and technological and scientific advances of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States. Explore galleries, videos, podcasts, learn about the solar system and watch ‘NASA TV’. You can also pilot the SpaceX Dragon using a simulator, check when the International Space Station (ISS) will be passing overhead using the live tracking map, and have a go at some astronaut training exercises. 


Oxford at Home

Join Oxford at Home – a weekly, live ‘tutorial’ discussing research from the University of Oxford. From Rembrandt’s early life, to biomedically engineered bubbles, to Shakespeare’s quarantine writings, and much much more – all hosted by Professor Rana Mitter. Details of upcoming tutorials, and recordings of previous events, can be found on the University’s website.

> Oxford at Home

BBC Modern Writers Archive

Delve into this rich resource containing a great number of interviews with noteworthy authors, from Margaret Atwood and PG Wodehouse, to Martin Amis and Monica Ali. Discover how they ‘created the characters we love or hate, the evocative settings, and the plots that have us reading late into the night, desperate to know what happens.’ 

> BBC Modern Writers Archive 

Lonely Planet: Google Maps Tours

Lonely Planet have created five city walking routes that you can explore using Google Maps – so you can ‘pound the streets’ of a new city from home. Discover Havana, Cuba; Split, Croatia; Melbourne, Australia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Bangkok, Thailand. 

> Lonely Planet: Google Maps Tours

Previous recommendations

Resources from past weeks are now being collected in three new pages: ‘Explore’ (for visiting museums and archives), ‘Enjoy’ (for reading, watching and listening) and ‘Have a go’ (for hands-on learning and activities).