Why our memories are not reliable

Click on the links below to jump to any of these stories:

STRESS FORGETTING: The truth about human memory is that we know so little about it — and even what we remember may not always be true.

DEATH AND DYING: Psychologists debunk the seven stages of grief — and encourage that we grieve at our own pace and in the best way we know how.

SPONSORED: Experts recommend sleeping on your side or back to prevent neck pain.

PICTURE OF THE DAY: According to TCM, cold hands and feet are signs of lacking qi and poor blood circulation.

STRESS FORGETTING

The Big Idea:
The truth about human memory is that we know so little about it — and even what we remember may not always be true.

Traumatic memories are depressed and repressed

Traumatic experiences are painful and terrifying, and oftentimes, we wish we could just forget about it and pretend it never happened.

Funny thing is, it can happen — our brain puts it in a box, shoves it in a dark corner, never to be found again (until therapy). 

The repression of memories is known as dissociative amnesia, a memory disorder that involves forgetting past memories of particularly stressful or traumatic events. Some psychologists believe this is your brain’s defence mechanism to protect you from reliving stressful events over and over.

Dissociative amnesia is still a hot debate

But the validity of dissociative amnesia is not without controversy.

There is evidence that stressful situations can tamper neurotransmitter release at the brain structures important for memory, like the hippocampus. But this may account for the everyday forgetfulness that worsens in trauma victims after the trauma, rather than the loss of memories of the trauma itself.

For now, repressed memories are still largely an uncredited Freudian concept.

Not a Black Mirror episode, but you can induce a false memory

In 1995, researchers successfully created false memories in a lab by simply telling people an alternate version of what happened. And in the UK, hundreds of people have been wrongfully convicted by testimonies of things that never actually happened.

Importantly, our memories are nowhere as reliable as we may think. Think of them as stories that you tell and retell again — you fill in the parts you lose, and embellish the parts you like.

That said, it’s not like our memories are completely haywire, and no, your whole life has not been a lie. Forgetting has practical functions too. If you’ve never successfully remembered the quadratic equation, maybe your brain just knows you’re never gonna need that in real life.

SNIPPETS

5 Singaporean stories to catch up on

1️⃣ Maybe, possibly: Discussions about a Singapore-India air travel bubble are currently underway, India’s High Commissioner in Singapore said.

2️⃣  President Halimah Yacob has received the Covid-19 vaccine at the Outram Polyclinic.

3️⃣  That’s an A! More than 80% of Singapore’s population is now using TraceTogether, an increase from 78% two weeks ago.

4️⃣ A 16-year-old boy got detained under the ISA for planning two knife attacks at the Assyafaah Mosque in Sembawang and Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands.

5️⃣ Wait, a ~mystery~? About 70 students at Springdale Primary School have reported experiencing eye irritations on Monday (25 Jan)  — but no one knows why yet.

And 5 facts to spice up your life:

1️⃣ Are you fatter than an elephant? An average elephant carries less body fat — proportionate to the rest of their body — than a human!

2️⃣  My afternoon of rest and relaxation: A new study has found that regular afternoon naps correlate with better cognitive performance in the elderly.

3️⃣ Pandemic puppy… Puppy pandemic: Animal welfare officers are worried that more people in the UK are returning or reselling the puppies they bought on a whim during the lockdown.

4️⃣ The sharks are fin-nished! Three-quarters of all our oceanic shark species are now threatened with extinction — due to overfishing — compared to one-third in 1980.

5️⃣ A Wisconsin pharmacist has pleaded guilty for trying to spoil dozens of vials of Covid-19 vaccine — because he believed they would mutate the recipients’ DNA.

DEATH AND DYING

The Big Idea:
Psychologists debunk the seven stages of grief — and encourage that we grieve at our own pace and in the best way we know how.

Can we talk about the d-word

We all know we’re going to die someday.

And so will our parents, our siblings, our friends… Death is quite normal. Yet, it is still regarded as taboo in many cultures, and humans are strangely terrible at talking about it.

In the past year, there have been more deaths around us than ever before. Suddenly, we couldn’t just ignore it anymore. And slowly, grieving became part of the new normal.

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to grieve

You may have heard of the five (or seven) stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

It seems like a logical flow of emotions — but here lies the problem: grief is anything but logical.

Psychologists that criticise the stage theory of grief fault it for being too prescriptive and lacking empirical validity. Different people grieve differently; and more importantly, there is no right way to do it.

So if you find yourself skipping a step — or even, skipping them all — don’t feel bad, and don’t feel ashamed. Loss is personal, emotional, and hard enough without people expecting you to do it any one way. You do you.

Grief is not depression. But grief can become depression

Before 2013, a person in bereavement couldn’t be diagnosed with major depression — even if they had depressive symptoms — under the guidelines of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).

But today, the bereavement exclusion no longer exists, and the DSM-5 recognises that grief doesn’t immunise you from major depression. In fact, grief may very well trigger it.

If your grief is snowballing into something bigger, check out our list of resources to help someone with depression in Singapore. Bad times need not be weathered alone — so don’t be afraid to reach out!

The Big Idea:
Experts recommend sleeping on your side or back to prevent neck pain.

What your sleeping position says about you

You may have heard it before: Log sleepers are sociable, back sleepers are focused, and stomach sleepers are risk-takers. Sounds about right?

Nope, not quite. Your sleeping position doesn’t have much to do with your personality — but it probably indicates your neck health.

Support the neck, straighten the back

According to experts, the two easiest sleeping positions for your neck are on your back and side. Back-sleepers should choose a rounded pillow that can fit and support the natural curvature of your neck; then choose a flat one for your head.

For side-sleepers: try a pillow that is raised higher under your neck than your head, so that your back is straightened as much as possible.

Pillows that can be switchin’ the positions for you

The point is to avoid having your neck bent in any position over a long period of time — because that will naturally cause discomfort.

The search for the perfect pillow can be so hard — and it’s okay to be picky. We’re here to help!

The Plushopedic™ Adjustable Memory Fluff Pillow uses viscoelastic memory fluff that cushions your head and cradles your neck. Let your head fall back comfortably into deep, sweet dreams while your neck remains strongly supported.

Importantly, it also adapts to back, side and combination-sleepers. So if you’re the kind of person who can’t stay in one position while asleep, this pillow could be your new best friend.

SHOWER THOUGHTS

Weird & Wonderful

  1. You have most likely been in multiple stranger’s dreams while they don’t know who you are at all.
  2. Clapping is literally just hitting yourself because you like something.
  3. Everyone always talks about climbing a mountain, nobody talks about having to get back down it again.
  4. Dogs and cats have enslaved humans just by being cute.
  5. It doesn’t matter if you’re a virgin or not, we have all been inside of a woman.
PICTURE OF THE DAY

Image of US Senator Bernie Sanders sitting at the bleachers at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. By Brendan Smialowski.

The Big Idea:
According to TCM, cold hands and feet are signs of lacking qi and poor blood circulation.

Why you get cold feet (and hands)

The image of Bernie Sanders — masked up, cross-legged and huddled in super chic mittens — has become the Internet’s new favourite thing the past week. 

And we admit: what a mood.

But Sanders says he was just trying to keep warm. It is the middle of winter in Washington after all — and your hands and feet, which are at the peripheries of your body, get cold the fastest as there is less blood flow there.

While cold hands and feet could be signs of poor blood circulation, it could also be because blood vessels narrow in cold temperatures.

Layer and heat to keep your hands Bernie-ng warm

Doctors suggest that the first line of protection is keeping your hands and feet protected with layers — and warm them up if they get cold.

While Singapore is not quite cold enough to whip out the Bernie-style mittens, we say the bottom of our laptops make for excellent office hand warmers!

Or maybe you’re lacking ~qi~

But if you’re thinking about managing the matter internally, TCM practitioners will recommend that you renourish your qi (a.k.a. vital energy).

Accordingly, cold hands and feet are signs that your qi is lacking and your blood circulation is weak. They recommend aerobic exercises and foot soaks in hot water to improve the flow of warm blood through your body.

If you’d like to learn more, check out our guide to seeing a TCM physician in Singapore here!

Tiffany

Tiffany is a writer who reads Lorde’s lyrics and calls it practice. She likes her pills served with croffles (that’s a croissant waffle, for the unsophisticated.)