New Study Confirms: Fearful Thoughts Have A Negative Effect On Memory, Focus, And More - Save Our Bones

Savers know that chronic stress and anxiety damage bones. Now, a new study confirms that fearing stress can actually become a self-fulfilling prophecy, worsening working memory and reducing your effectiveness on the job or at home.

Since for many the holiday season is known as one of the most stressful time of the year, today we'll explore how you can replace the fear of stress with a positive attitude, to protect your bones and your brain.

A Bad Attitude Leads To Bad Memory

Worry is a non-productive emotion. Fortunately, we can train our minds to control or even eliminate it.

The challenge arises from our inclination to live in the future. Animals live in present time. The human ability to plan ahead is what gets us into trouble. We think about all we need to get done by the end of the day, or about upcoming obligations, or even social events. For most people, this anticipation creates stress.

A new study conducted at Penn State University found that thinking about potential future stressful events affects working memory. A reduced working memory (short-term memory) means you're more likely to make mistakes, which can be dangerous if you're driving, working on a complex task, or are responsible for someone else.

According to study co-author Jinshil Hyun:

“Humans can think about and anticipate things before they happen, which can help us prepare for and even prevent certain events. But this study suggests that this ability can also be harmful to your daily memory function, independent of whether the stressful events actually happen or not.”1

So if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, already thinking about how much you have to do and wondering how you'll ever accomplish it all, you lower your ability to learn and retain information later in the day — even if the day turns out to be a comparative breeze.


Anticipating stress negatively affects your memory, a new study has found. If you fear your day will be stressful, you disrupt your working memory, which means you'll be less able to focus and more likely to make mistakes later in the day, even if the day ends up going well.

Understanding What Stress Is — And Is Not

It's important to understand the nature of stress. When you're under a deadline at work, for example, or training for a marathon, your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol to help you meet this challenge. This is normal, and in the short-term, it's fine. However, chronic stress becomes a problem, affecting bone health and brain health.

Long-term stress leads to an excessive secretion of acidifying cortisol, throwing off your pH balance. Also, your body uses a tremendous amount of energy to produce cortisol — energy that is therefore not available for vital processes such as bone formation, along with immune, endocrine, and nervous system support.

Hans Selye, who coined the term “stress” in 1936, defined it as the body's demand for change. So you can see how stress, by definition, is not necessarily negative. How we respond to stressors (a stimulus that causes the stress response) determines whether we are actually under stress or not.

Consider this: fear and excitement are the same emotion, but what we are experiencing defines the meaning. Prepping to run that 5K might not be stressful for you at all. On the other hand, you might experience a loud party as highly stressful, whereas the same event might be experienced as joyful by someone else.


Scientist Hans Selye, who coined the term “stress,” described it as the body's demand for change. What we experience as a stressor (the event or action causing the stressful response) differs according to each individual. One person's stress is another's good time.

5 Coping Strategies to Keep Cognition Strong

If the fear of stress threatens to overwhelm you this holiday season, you can use the following coping strategies to regain your optimism, maintain good memory, and enjoy the holiday season while protecting your bones:

  1. Transform fearful anticipation into amusing association: find creative connections between what you need to remember to buy or do. Making up a silly, highly visual story that involves all your obligations for the day can give you a mental boost in recalling them. Bonus: it will lighten up the anxiety.
  2. Eat, Sleep, Exercise! This is the Savers' version of the popular book, Eat, Pray, Love. As we've explored before, getting enough sleep, eating a bone-smart diet, and engaging in bone-building exercise are crucial to boosting brain health and preventing fractures. Like creative storytelling that enhances recall, these positive actions will decrease the tendency to fret about the future. In fact, there's evidence that staying in shape improves memory.2
  3. Don't act your age. Another great coping strategy is to be childlike in your outlook. People who maintain their sense of wonder (and sense of humor) as they age are more resilient, able to remain positive even in difficult circumstances.3
  4. Choose optimism. This may sound easier said than done, especially when you're with countless obligations during the holidays. So press “pause”, observe how you're feeling, and try to convert negative thoughts or statements into positive ones. You've heard the expression, “Fake it till you make it”? This is true with just about every new habit. As you begin to accentuate the positive, both in how you act and in what you say to others, it will become your new normal.
  5. Root for rutin. Rutin, a flavonoid found in plant foods, is a powerhouse for both bone health and brain health, increasing bone density, preventing blood clots, relieving intraocular pressure (a boon for those with glaucoma) and playing a “neuroprotective role” against oxidative stressors.4

    So make sure you consume foods that are rich in rutin, such as buckwheat, apples, figs, and citrus fruits this season, for a delicious and calming rutin boost.


Five excellent ways to keep stress at bay this holiday season include turning anticipation into association (making a creative mental picture of what you need to get done); getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet; exercising; acting childlike; choosing optimism over pessimism, and eating foods that contain the powerful flavonoid polyphenol rutin.

Keeping Your Glass Half Full

If you start your day with an optimistic outlook, you’ll protect your memory and bones, by setting the stage for a stress-free day. Stress is a call for change. By taking a proactive approach — taking good care of yourself, especially during the holiday season — you will transform worry into a positive perspective. With a glass-half-full attitude, you'll be better equipped to cope with challenges and enjoy the holidays and your life to the fullest.

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1 Jinshil Hyun, MA et al., “Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed: The Effects of Stress Anticipation on Working Memory in Daily Life”, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, gby042, 15 May 2018. Web.

2 Ellenbogen, Jeffrey M., et al. “Human relational memory requires time and sleep.” PNAS. 104. 18. (2007): 7723-7728. August 20, 2016. Web.

3 “Be Sillier For Long, Happy Life? Study Finds Key To Feeling Younger Is Acting Younger.” StudyFinds. January 4, 2018. Web:

4 Javed, H., et al. “Rutin prevents cognitive impairments by ameliorating oxidative stress and neuroinflammation in rat model of sporadic dementia of Alzheimer type.” Neuroscience. 210. (2012): 340-352. May 15, 2016. Web.

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Comments on this article are closed.

  1. Marlene Villar

    Good afternoon Vivian,
    Excellent article !
    Thank you very much Vivian and I truly appreciated it.

    Have a wonderful day.

  2. shulamit sendowski

    Thank you for re-sending this article on stress for us. It’s worth reading.

  3. Amarjit Singh

    Very beneficial information provided is highly appreciated. Wishing all you Merry christmas and Happy New Year .

  4. Christine Foulkes-Taylor

    The information you send is much appreciated, and I have certainly benefited.
    Wishing you all a very happy and healthy Christmas and New Year

  5. Lilita Boden

    Thank you very much, Vivian, for all of your enlightening information.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you.

  6. Lesley Stainthorpe

    Thanks Vivian for all the excellent information and I wish you and your families
    a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

  7. Carolyn

    Merry Christmas to you and yours! Thank you for all your wonderful articles that keep us informed on our bone health issues.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Same to you, Carolyn! And you’re very welcome 🙂

  8. Marge Knyper

    Dear Vivian, I held you in high esteem until today when your headline on the email stated worry causes memory problems. We do not need the negative input that you put out; many people do not go and read the rest of the article and are upset by putting such a negative comment about a human emotion. I understand the glass half full analogy but you could have phrased it differently.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Marge, fortunately, the information in today’s article is not negative because there are many natural and easy ways to change the behaviors that cause the memory loss.

  9. Helen

    Thank you for all the news articles, Vivian — very much appreciated.
    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and staff and all!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      It’s our pleasure, Helen! And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours.

  10. Darlene

    Vivian, I enjoy your articles so much and find many so helpful. Merry Christmas to all!!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      We’re so glad you enjoy our articles, Darlene! Happy Holidays to you and your family!

  11. Suzy

    Wow, Vivian! Such a timely article! So grateful for your continued research into any and all areas that will help us to live better lives — and with better bones! 🙂 Blessings of the season on you and all your staff! — Suzy

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      And we are grateful to have you in the Saver community, Suzy, and please accept our best holiday wishes to you and yours!

  12. Venus

    Loved this article! Thank you for continued excellence!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re very welcome, Venus!

  13. Lantana Voiles

    I am having severe issues with stress. What capsule is best for rutin intake?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Lantana, we recommend getting rutin from the foods listed in the article above, so we have not as of yet researched any rutin supplements. However, they are available from reputable brands (such as Solgar and Now Foods), should you decide to take a supplement.

  14. Mr G N Mahi

    Dear Vivian
    Your pieces on the psychological effects of different negative aspects of human attitudes are extremely important and should prove quite beneficial to all Savers and to those whom they pass the message to.
    Human beings, especially nowadays, are ruining their lives by ruining every day they live through fear, worry, resentment etc.
    Thanks / Ghassan

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Thanks for your kind words, Ghassan!

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