Silhouette of a person and their brain, where then brain has bite marks taken out of it

Practical Tips for Overcoming Chemobrain

If you are experiencing chemobrain, fortunately, there are steps to take to better utilize your brainpower after a cancer diagnosis and/or treatment.

Dr. Karen Pollard, the founder of Brain Power Advisors, has helped thousands of people gain a greater understanding of how their brain works and how to maximize their brain’s potential. She uses a step-by-step process to help people unlock the unique processing power of their brain in order to increase efficiency and reduce stress.

Harnessing brainpower to overcome chemobrain

“In order to make progress on improving your memory -- or improving anything for that matter -- there has to be motivation to make a change. As humans, we don’t really change much unless there’s a reason to change.”

For example, if we want to remember people’s names better, there needs to be an incentive or benefit for remembering people’s names.

Also, there is trial and error in discovering what best for each of us. A successful technique for one person may not work for another person. So, while one strategy may work for a lot of people, a totally different strategy works well for others.

Our brains are all unique

“Our brains are a little bit different, like a fingerprint,” says Dr. Pollard.

“When we create a new memory, there are four steps. Encoding is your first touch of the information. The first time your brain contacts something new, you are encoding it.”

A couple of things need to happen when your brain encodes information, she explains. First, you need to be able to see and hear it in order to grasp it. You also need the ability to focus and pay attention.

“If you’re not focused someone could be trying to beat you over the head with information but you’re not going to catch it because you’re not focused.”

How to improve information comprehension

Next is consolidation or the ability to comprehend the information.

“Consolidation is your brain’s ability to understand what you’re trying to remember,” she explains. “Then storage, which is your ability to hold on to what it is you’re trying to remember. People with Alzheimer’s disease are paying attention. They are focused. But when they go to store it, everything falls out. They are unable to store it. They cannot do the fourth step, which is recall.”

When we do not remember things, oftentimes it’s because it did not enter our memory center to begin with. Encoding, that first step in creating a new memory, is the part of memory most impacted by chemobrain.

Stress creates more stress

If you find yourself struggling to recall something that is really not that important to you, Dr. Pollard suggests you simply relax. Shrug it off. Forget about it. Don’t stress out trying to remember something that is irrelevant. Otherwise, you will find yourself in an endless cycle of stress and anxiety.

“Trying too hard to remember something can be counterproductive,” explains Dr. Pollard. “It creates stress and anxiety that creates cortisol that may block the information. In those situations, just let it go and it will probably come back to you when your brain has relaxed enough to complete the search.”

Read the continuation in Practical Tips for Overcoming Chemobrain: Part 2.

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