How childhood memories can help relieve stress

How childhood memories can help relieve stress

Today is National Stress awareness Day and it’s no secret we all experience stress from time to time in our everyday lives but we all have our various ways of dealing when life gets too much.

A recent study by On The Beach has reveled that the secret to relieving stress could be in our precious childhood memories, with 20 per cent of adults claiming memories of their childhood make them feel more optimistic about life. It’s also very important we know how to exercise our minds to recall these happy events as we grow older.

The study questioned 2,000 British adults and revealed the impact of recalling childhood memories, with one in ten admitting memories help to cheer them up when they feel down, one in seven think it helps them relax when they’re stressed and one in five feel more optimistic and energised when thinking back to past happier times.

 As well as having a positive impact on stressful situations, the survey by beach holiday specialists On the Beach revealed the childhood memories that stick in the mind most vividly, with school trips coming out on top, with nearly three quarters of Brits remembering these days out. However it is the carefree days of swimming in the pool on holiday that came out on top of happy childhood memories. 

In order to understand how we can recall these memories more clearly in our minds, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool and honorary consultant clinical psychologist with the NHS Peter Kinderman, commented on the survey, providing insight into how memories are constructed - and advice which may help people remember life’s best moments more clearly.

“Philosophers and psychologists agree that we are what we remember - our self concept, our understanding of ourselves, of other people and the way the world works all depend on our memories.

“Our sense of who we are and our capacity to be happy and fulfilled is hugely dependent on our memories. In mental health, traumatic and unpleasant memories from childhood and the ways in which we get on with our parents are supremely important in determining our mood.

 “It’s also true that memories, including folklore type memories, and these days films, books and great literature, are all important in terms of giving us tactics for solving problems in our lives. If our kids are scared on the first day of new school, we say; “do you remember when you joined Brownies, you didn’t like Brownies on the first day, were you scared?” And they say “yes”, and you say, “well you’re scared of going to school, it’s just like Brownies…” Of course, kids are kids, so it never really goes according to plan, but the point is that we learn how to navigate the world using our memories.

“We construct our memories and they are not an exact reflection of reality. Memories aren’t like films, they are more like a cartoon that you redraw every time that you recall something. We’re constructing memories all the time, so kids will build a picture of childhood and a picture of their parents and a picture of what their summer holidays were all about.

“We are constantly building up this picture of who we are and weaving experiences into the story of our life. One experience of eating calamari on holiday won’t necessarily add one percentage point to your happiness, but the overall experience may have all the elements of creating a happy memory: the eating of calamari, the laughing of the juggler, and the fact that the sun didn’t set until 10pm, and the fact that your parents were relaxed, and it was during that holiday that you kissed a boy for the first time… those things you weave into the story of your life, and that’s how memories work.”

Ways to recall our precious memories: Meditation

The 5-4-3-2-1 meditation method may help us recall our early memories with ease and is a popular practice which helps people ground themselves in a moment. The method is traditionally used by anxiety sufferers as it is a way of regaining control over thoughts, but Peter says parents can use it to help keep precious family memories fresh in their minds.

The method recommends focusing on five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

Peter said: “When it comes to memories, multi-sensory experiences are more likely to stay in the mind, so a moment that triggers all the senses is more likely to be remembered and consolidated. 

“For example if you are on holiday, you could say to your child: “Isn’t this nice? Wearing your favourite dress and watching the sun go down while the waves lap the sand on the beach. And can you hear those birds singing and the crickets in the background?” Or: “look at that juggler over there, and can you feel the sand underneath your toes and that lovely cool breeze?”

“If you want to hang on to those wonderful childhood memories of your children, and if you want your children to also retain those memories so that they can incorporate them into a story about their life and childhood, then doing this method is a great way of doing so.”

The importance of childhood memories

Alan Harding, Marketing Director at On the Beach said: “Our Childhood Memories campaign is all about looking back on those special moments that really define who we are and help write the story of our lives. 

 “We commissioned this research because we wanted to ask Brits about the experiences that mean the most to them, and the results show that our early memories really are important when it comes to our growth into adults.

“It was heartwarming to see how many people enjoy looking back on their happiest memories.  

Using the 5-4-3-2-1 method to consolidate happy memories with your children

  • When out with your family, pick a moment that you would like your child to remember

  • Point out five things you can see, for example the sun setting, a street entertainer, an item of clothing, a souvenir shop, the beach

  • Point out four things you can hear, i.e. music, birds singing, children laughing, waves lapping

  • Point out three things you can feel, i.e. a tablecloth underneath your fingertips, sand in between your toes, the warmth of the sun

  • Point out two things you can smell, i.e. the smell of suncream, freshly grilled fish

  • Point out one thing you can taste, i.e. an unusual flavour of ice cream