Jordan Friedman overcame remarkable adversity—including a near-fatal brain tumor—to become a globally respected leader in stress management. Relying on strategies he developed as Columbia University’s health education director, Jordan has helped 9/11 survivors, school teachers, business executives, NYPD officers, prison inmates, students, cancer patients, and others bring their stress levels under control.
Brent: How does stress physiologically impact a person's ability to retain and recall information?
Jordan: When we are stressed, our bodies produce hormones to help us fight or flee a situation, even if we don’t really need to do so. These hormones typically interfere with the regular functioning of the brain's memory center, which can make it harder to recall information. These hormones flow to keep us safe and alive, whether sparked by an upcoming dentist’s appointment or a car coming at you as you cross the street.
Brent: So we prioritize the memory of whatever stimulus gets our adrenaline flowing at the moment.
Jordan: Recalling someone’s name or items you need at the supermarket are not important when the body’s number mission is protecting you. This may be why memory of non-essential information takes a back seat when we’re stressed.
Brent: People often feel that they should be able to manage stress on their own, without seeking help. What has gotten some of them over the hump to come to you?
Jordan: Stressed people seek support when they can’t sleep, are perpetually exhausted, are having stress-fueled relationship problems, or have existing health issues such as chronic headaches or panic episodes that they feel are worsening because of stress.
Brent: So they’ve really let themselves get pushed to the breaking point.
Jordan: They often put off taking concrete and ongoing action to manage stress until they feel they can’t deal anymore with stressful situations and/or the symptoms they are producing. It’s much better to stop for a tune-up so that you prevent breaking down on the side of a road somewhere.
Brent: Tell us how managing stress has allowed someone you've worked with to become more mindful and think more creatively.
Jordan: I have lots of examples of this. I lead an exercise for audiences called the Mod Squad where someone identifies a stressor and the rest of the group generates modified ways to think or act to make that stressor less stressful. One time, a guy said that riding the subway twice a day was really stressful for him because he felt closed in and terribly anxious. The rest of the group came up with all sorts of options for him, including riding in the first or last car of the train where it’s often less crowded. You could see the light bulb go on over this guy’s head because it was an option that he’d never thought of, let alone tried.
Brent: So, how did it work out for him?
Jordan: A few weeks later, he reported much less subway stress and anxiety thanks to acting on this suggestion. This guy wasn’t stupid, it’s that he—like most of us—are creatures of habit who get into thinking and acting ruts. When we’re stressed, those ruts often prevent us from being creative problem solvers. Habits and stress make perspective and out-of-the-box thinking more difficult, which is why bringing in others to help is a powerful way to generate better results.
Brent: Good point. Using others as a sounding board reminds us that we’re not alone in our stress, or any other condition that may make life uncomfortable. What about stress prevention through yoga or meditation?
Jordan: Meditators or people who practice some form of mindfulness, almost always report increased creativity and problem-solving ability. When we quiet our minds by focusing on just one thing—our breath, an image, a mantra, etc.—it enables us to better hear the creativity and solutions that are already in our heads. Everybody experiences this to some extent when falling asleep and waking up. The stress hormones are quiet and ideas have a better chance of getting your attention.
Brent: So the key is getting back to that quiet place before stress starts to overtake us.
Jordan: Yes, it speaks to giving ourselves more breaks, whether they be meditation, yoga, a walk, exercise, sleep, or other “stress plows” that clear the way for whatever type of cognitive processing we desire. For people looking to improve their memories, I recommend Quick Calm. It's a fast-acting "plow" that reverses the stress response and can let what you need to remember rise to the surface more easily.
Brent: “Stress plows,” I like that! Thank you so much, Jordan. You’ve given us valuable advice to make our body, mind, and spirit healthier. I encourage readers to visit your website for more resources: thestresscoach.com.
Jordan: It’s been my pleasure.