Boosting Cognitive Function: Practical Ways to Manage Stress
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Why stress impacts cognitive function
  2. How to identify your stress triggers
  3. Practical ways to reduce stress in your daily life
  4. How to incorporate mindfulness into your routine
  5. Why physical activity counters stress
  6. How to use nutrition to combat stress
  7. Why sleep is vital for stress management
  8. How to cultivate positive social connections
  9. How to set realistic goals and expectations
  10. Why continuous learning boosts cognitive function

Life can feel like a whirlwind at times, and stress seems to be an inevitable part of it. Often, we don't realize how the impact of stress on our cognitive functions can sneak up on us, affecting our ability to think, remember, and concentrate. But don't worry! There are plenty of practical ways to manage stress and boost cognitive function. This blog is going to share these strategies—simple, yet effective ways you can incorporate into your daily life to keep stress at bay and your mind sharp.

Why stress impacts cognitive function

Stress is like that unwanted guest who shows up at your doorstep unannounced. But unlike a guest, stress doesn't leave without causing some damage. You see, when you're stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. It's your body's built-in alarm system. In small doses, cortisol can boost memory, but when it's constantly elevated—like when you're dealing with chronic stress—it can have a negative impact on your cognitive functions.

Now, let's look at the specifics. Here's how stress takes a toll on your cognitive abilities:

  • Memory: Ever walked into a room and forgot why you went there? That's your stress messing with your memory. High cortisol levels can interfere with the formation of new memories and the retrieval of old ones.
  • Concentration: When you're stressed, your thoughts can run around like a hamster on a wheel, making it hard for you to focus on one thing. This can impact your ability to concentrate on tasks at hand.
  • Learning: Stress can also affect your ability to learn. It can make it harder to absorb new information and can slow down the learning process.

Now that you understand the impact of stress on cognitive functions, it's clear why managing stress is important for maintaining mental agility. But don't stress about it! The rest of this blog will provide you with practical ways to manage stress and boost your cognitive function.

How to identify your stress triggers

Imagine trying to swat away a fly with your eyes closed. Sounds challenging, right? That's what it's like trying to manage stress without knowing what's causing it. The first step to managing stress and reducing its impact on cognitive functions is to identify your stress triggers.

Stress triggers are events, people, places, or even thoughts that kickstart your stress response. They can be as mundane as a cluttered desk or as significant as a high-stakes work deadline. The key to identifying your stress triggers is self-awareness. Paying attention to when your stress levels rise can help you pinpoint what's causing it.

Here's a simple three-step process to help you identify your stress triggers:

  1. Keep a stress journal: For a week or two, jot down details whenever you feel stressed. Note the date, time, location, people around you, what you were doing, and how you felt. Over time, you'll start to see patterns emerge.
  2. Learn to recognize your stress symptoms: Stress affects everyone differently. Some people get headaches, others feel irritable or anxious. Understanding your unique stress symptoms can help you identify when you're feeling stressed.
  3. Review and analyze: After a couple of weeks, review your stress journal. Look for patterns or recurring situations that seem to increase your stress levels. These are your stress triggers.

Once you've identified your stress triggers, you're halfway to managing your stress and mitigating its impact on your cognitive functions. The next step? Developing strategies to reduce stress in your daily life, but we'll get to that in the next section.

Practical ways to reduce stress in your daily life

Now that you've identified your stress triggers, let's talk about how to reduce their impact on your day-to-day life—and on your cognitive functions. Here are some practical, easy-to-implement strategies:

  1. Plan Ahead: One of the most straightforward ways to reduce stress is to avoid it in the first place. If traffic makes you tense, leave for work a little earlier or try a different route. If you're always rushing to meet deadlines, start projects earlier or break them down into more manageable tasks.
  2. Practice Relaxation Techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce immediate stress responses. They can also help you feel more in control when facing stressful situations.
  3. Breathe Fresh Air: Ever notice how a walk in the park can make you feel more relaxed? That's because spending time in nature can lower stress levels. Even a few minutes outside can make a difference.
  4. Laugh it Off: They say laughter is the best medicine, and when it comes to stress, they're right. Laughing can reduce stress hormones and stimulate production of endorphins, your body's natural mood lifters.
  5. Limit Caffeine: While a coffee can perk you up, too much can increase stress levels. Try switching to decaf or herbal tea after your first cup in the morning.

Remember, the goal is not to eliminate stress completely—that's impossible—but to manage it in a way that reduces its impact on your cognitive functions. With these practical strategies, you'll be well on your way to a more peaceful, productive life.

How to incorporate mindfulness into your routine

Ever heard of mindfulness? It's more than just a buzzword. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment, and it's a powerful tool for combatting the impact of stress on cognitive functions. But how can you incorporate it into your daily routine? Let's look at a few strategies:

  1. Start Your Day Mindfully: Instead of jumping out of bed and rushing into your day, take a few moments to set a positive tone. You might meditate, practice deep breathing, or simply sit quietly with a cup of tea.
  2. Prioritize Mindful Eating: Eating is something we all do every day, but how often do you really pay attention to it? Try savoring each bite, paying attention to the flavors, textures, and smells. This can help turn a routine activity into a mindful experience.
  3. Take Mindful Breaks: Instead of using breaks to scroll through social media or worry about what's next on your to-do list, use them as opportunities for mindfulness. You might take a walk, do a quick yoga session, or simply sit quietly and observe your surroundings.
  4. Practice Mindful Listening: How often do you really listen—without planning what you'll say next or thinking about something else? Try to fully focus on the other person during conversations. You'll likely find that this not only reduces stress but also leads to better communication.
  5. End Your Day Mindfully: Just as you start your day mindfully, try to end it that way, too. This could mean practicing a bedtime yoga routine, writing in a gratitude journal, or simply reflecting on the day's events.

Remember, mindfulness isn't about achieving a certain state or feeling. It's about acknowledging whatever you're experiencing in the present moment—without judgment. By incorporating mindfulness into your routine, you can reduce the impact of stress on cognitive functions and enjoy a more peaceful, centered life.

Why physical activity counters stress

We all know that exercise is good for our bodies, but did you realize it can also help protect your brain from the impact of stress on cognitive functions? Yes, you read that right! Physical activity is not only for weight loss or muscle building—it's also a stress-buster.

  1. It Releases Feel-Good Chemicals: When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These little guys are often referred to as the body's "natural painkillers" because they help to soothe and calm you down. This can, in turn, help to alleviate the impact of stress on cognitive functions.
  2. It Helps You Sleep Better: Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. A good night's sleep can enhance your mood, energy levels, and cognitive functions—providing a natural defense against stress.
  3. It's a Natural Meditation: When you're focused on your body's movements, you may find that you forget about the day's irritations and concentrate only on your body and the present moment. This can have a calming effect on your mind, reducing stress and its impact on cognitive functions.
  4. It Improves Your Mood: Regular physical activity can increase self-confidence, relax you, and lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. This can ease your stress levels and give a clear mind for better cognitive functions.

Even a small amount of physical activity can make a difference. So, the next time you feel stressed, instead of reaching for the remote or a snack, consider going for a brisk walk or doing a quick workout. Your brain will thank you!

How to use nutrition to combat stress

Believe it or not, what you put on your plate can influence the impact of stress on cognitive functions. Yep, that's right! The food you eat plays a vital role in how your body responds to stress. So, let's explore how you can use nutrition to your advantage.

  1. Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and flaxseeds, can improve mood and memory function. Eating these foods can help your brain combat the effects of stress.
  2. Don't Skip Breakfast: Breakfast kick-starts your metabolism and helps to prevent blood-sugar dips that can affect your mood and energy. A meal high in protein and low in sugar is a perfect start to a stress-free day.
  3. Eat Complex Carbohydrates: Complex carbs, like whole grains and fruits, can help regulate your blood sugar and make you feel fuller, longer. This helps manage the stress response and maintain cognitive function.
  4. Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can lead to fatigue and anxiety, both of which can exacerbate stress. Drink enough water and other hydrating fluids throughout the day to keep stress at bay.

Remember, there's no single 'magic' food that will instantly eliminate stress. It's about having a balanced diet that includes a variety of different nutrients. So, next time you're feeling stressed, think about what's on your plate. It might just be the key to keeping your cognitive functions sharp!

Why sleep is vital for stress management

Ever pulled an all-nighter and noticed your brain having a mini-meltdown the next day? That's because sleep is not just an off-duty period for your body. It's a critical time when your brain gets a chance to repair and rejuvenate itself.

Sleep has a direct impact on stress and cognitive functions. Let's see why.

  1. Restorative Function: During sleep, your body works hard to repair muscles, organs, and other cells. Chemicals that strengthen your immune system start to circulate in your blood. You can think of sleep as your body's maintenance time, which helps you resist stress.
  2. Improves Memory: Your mind is surprisingly busy while you snooze. During sleep, you can strengthen memories or "practice" skills learned while you were awake. It's a process called consolidation. So, skimping on sleep can impact learning and memory.
  3. Regulates Mood: Lack of sleep can make you moody, emotional, and quick to anger. Regular quality sleep can help you keep your emotions and mood in check, reducing the likelihood of stress.

So, how can we ensure we're getting enough quality sleep? Aim for 7-9 hours per night, keep a regular sleep schedule, make your bedroom a sleep-friendly environment, and have a relaxing pre-sleep routine. Remember, every hour of sleep is a step towards better stress management.

How to cultivate positive social connections

Have you ever noticed how a good chat with a friend can make you feel lighter, happier, and less stressed? That's the power of positive social connections! They play a significant role in how we manage stress and the impact of stress on cognitive functions.

Here's how positive social connections help:

  1. Boosts Feelings of Happiness: Positive social interactions release hormones that induce feelings of happiness, relaxation, and lower levels of anxiety and stress.
  2. Provides a Support System: When you're facing a stressful situation, having people who understand and support you can make it seem less daunting.
  3. Increases Sense of Belonging: Feeling that you're part of a community can significantly reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, common stressors that can impair cognitive functions.

So, how can you cultivate positive social connections? Don't worry; it's simpler than you might think:

  1. Reach Out: Start by reaching out to the people around you - friends, family, colleagues, neighbors. A simple hello can sometimes lead to a million things!
  2. Be Open: Be willing to share and listen. Genuine relationships require mutual sharing and understanding.
  3. Join Groups: Look for groups or clubs that interest you. It could be a book club, hobby class, or an online forum related to your interests.

Remember, every positive connection you make is a step towards managing stress and preserving your cognitive functions. So, go ahead and make your move—your brain will thank you!

How to set realistic goals and expectations

Setting goals is like creating a roadmap for your life. But what happens when you set goals that are too lofty or expectations that are too high? The answer is simple: you invite unnecessary stress into your life. This stress can have a negative impact on cognitive functions, clouding judgment and impeding decision-making abilities.

So, how can you set goals and expectations that are realistic and manage the impact of stress on cognitive functions? Here are some handy tips:

  1. Set Achievable Goals: Start with small, achievable goals. You don't have to write a best-selling novel; perhaps aim to write a page a day.
  2. Break Down Big Goals: If you have a big goal, break it down into smaller, manageable tasks. This makes the goal feel less daunting and helps manage stress levels.
  3. Be Flexible: Understand that things don't always go according to plan. Be willing to adapt your goals and expectations based on circumstances.

Remember, the aim is to set goals that you can reach without causing unnecessary stress. It's about progress, not perfection. By setting realistic expectations and achievable goals, you can manage stress better and safeguard your cognitive functions. So, go ahead and set those goals—just make sure they're realistic!

Why continuous learning boosts cognitive function

Ever wondered why some people seem to have a razor-sharp memory even as they age? One secret may lie in their lifelong habit of continuous learning. When you keep your brain active and engaged through learning, it can help ward off the negative impact of stress on cognitive functions.

But how does this work? Let's break it down:

  1. Neural Plasticity: Our brains have an incredible ability to change and adapt. This is called neural plasticity. When we learn new things, we create fresh neural pathways and strengthen existing ones, which enhances our cognitive abilities.
  2. Memory Enhancement: Learning new skills or knowledge requires memory. This process exercises your memory muscles, making them stronger and more efficient.
  3. Stress Reduction: Engaging in learning activities can act as a stress buster. Whether it's learning to play a musical instrument or mastering a new language, the focus required can provide a pleasant diversion from stressors.

So, you see, the benefits of continuous learning go beyond just acquiring new skills or knowledge. It's a powerful tool to keep your brain healthy, resilient, and stress-resistant. The next time you feel overwhelmed, try learning something new—it could be just the boost your cognitive function needs!

If you found this blog post on managing stress helpful and want to further boost your cognitive function, check out the workshop 'Learning to Focus' by George Dyson. This workshop will provide you with practical techniques to improve your focus and concentration, helping you better manage stress and enhance your cognitive abilities.