Evoking positive memories is a powerful resource

Why what you remember matters.

Key points:

  • When we are mentally stressed or highly emotional, we lose perspective.
  • Positive reminiscence activates the brain regions that can help calm us down and enable us to think straight.
  • It is a simple, powerful tool that anyone can use for reducing stress and distress.

“I don’t even remember what I liked to eat before. Or, rather, I can remember liking particular foods but they mean absolutely nothing to me now,” says 19-year-old Carola, her head clutched tightly between her hands.

‘Before’ was when she wasn’t in the grip of anorexia. It crept up on her during lockdown when she was on furlough from her job and had time to worry about all sorts of things that hadn’t really bothered her before. Her appearance was one of them.

She is desperate to get better, while simultaneously finding herself sabotaging every effort she makes.

“What were those foods?” I encourage her.

She shrugs, then a wan smile. “Macaroni cheese, an adult chilli version.”

“Did you make it for friends?”

“Yes, we used to have hot mac cheese nights and watch something on Netflix.”

I elicit more detail and store this information, along with an account of enjoying seafood at a beachside café in Italy and a raspberry trifle made by her mum and served in the garden one birthday. It is all recounted to me unenthusiastically in a flat voice.

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