We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it a million times – you’re not losing your mind – you’re just grieving. Yes, I know, your brain feels as dull as a butter knife these days. You lose your train of thought mid-sentence, and you’ve misplaced your car keys more times than you care to admit. But as disorienting as these experiences may be, such forgetfulness in grief is normal.
Feeling forgetful, confused, or unable to focus are typical grief responses, but you don’t have to take our word for it. It never hurts to discuss symptoms that feel out of the ordinary with your doctor. Especially if your forgetfulness:
- Is ongoing
- Disrupts routine daily activities
- Involves frequent memory lapses
- Causes you to forget whole conversations
- Causes you to forget the names of family members or close friends
- You find yourself frequently repeating yourself or asking the same questions in the same conversation
- Is getting worse over time
If you do speak to your doctor, make sure to discuss any medications you are taking as some can contribute to forgetfulness.
Grief forgetfulness is annoying, but it should get better in time. Until then, we’ve put together a list of 64 tips for coping with forgetfulness in grief. Some of these tips are just helpful life-hacks in general, others are specific to grief and remembering your loved one (towards the end).
Take a few minutes to read through, see if you think any of these ideas could be helpful to you, and then share your own tips in the comments section for future article readers.
64 Tips for Coping With Forgetfulness in Grief
1. Keep a calendar: Not only can it be difficult to keep important appointments straight when you’re grieving, but you may also find you’re constantly unsure of what day it even is! Keeping a calendar, whether it’s an appointment calendar, wall calendar, or electronic calendar, is a good way to keep yourself on track.
2. Use technology: This is a general suggestion to utilize the technology that’s available to you. No matter what assistance you need, there’s likely an app for it.
3. Set alerts/alarms: Need to remember to call the vet tomorrow? Set an alarm to remind you.
4. Ask someone to remind you: Full disclosure, this isn’t a reliable system because it requires someone else to remember.
5. Make lists: To-do lists, grocery lists, lists of home improvements, bills you have to pay, daily gratitudes – this list of lists could be endless. Lists are one of the best ways to keep yourself on track and, really interesting tidbit, research actually shows that making lists eases anxiety and quiets those nagging thoughts about all you have to do.
- Pro-Tip: Have you ever felt like you have lists in 100 different places? For example, you may have lists in different notebooks, slips of paper, mobile apps, etc. We suggest trying to keep your lists in one place. You could carry a small notebook with you, use the notes app on your phone, or use a method like the Bullet Journal Method. If you have to make lists in separate places, make sure to sit down and combine your lists at the end of each day.
6. Get better sleep: REM sleep is especially important for memory consolidation.
7. Talk to your doctor or therapist about your mental health: Underlying psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, and PTSD can impact your ability to concentrate, focus, and remember.
8. Focus on nutrition: A healthy diet is good for the brain. For example, research has linked diets high in saturated fats from foods like red meat and butter with poorer performance on memory tests.
9. Stay active: I’ll stop short of telling you to exercise. Just remember that physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. So when you get the chance, get up and move around at whatever intensity works for you.
11. Ask your doctor if any of your prescription medications interfere with memory.
12. Keep your brain active: In the same way that physical activity keeps your body in shape, mental activity keeps your brain in shape. Stimulate those brain muscles with things like crossword puzzles, brain games, reading, or learning a new skill.
13. Reduce Stress: Though acute stress may actually sharpen memory, chronic stress has destructive effects.
14. Pay Attention! In order to encode information into memory, you must first pay attention to it. If you’ve been feeling excessively distracted since your loss, you may want to try exercises and activities that increase your present moment awareness, like meditation.
15. Reduce your social media use: Social media reduces downtime and distracts you from paying attention to what’s going on around you which reduces your ability to create and encode memory. Also, it’s a barrier for other reasons that are too complicated for me to summarize.
16. Use medication reminder boxes to help you keep track of your medications and vitamins.
17. Find ways to process and cope with your grief: Avoiding the more distressing and painful parts of grief will not make them go away. Instead, they will continue to cause anxiety, stress, and distraction.
18. Face grief triggers rather than avoid them: Especially when those grief triggers are connected with positive reminders and memories of your loved one.
19. Read our post about grief and concentration
20. Establish a daily routine and stick to it
21. Get organized and create systems
22. Record the day’s events in a journal/diary
23. Do things the same way every time: Stick to the same morning routine while getting the kids ready for school, park in the same section of the parking lot every time, etc.
24. Do things when you think of them, don’t put them off for later: Take inspiration from David Allen’s 2-minute rule, which says if something can be done in less than 2 minutes, do it now. Not only does this cut back on procrastination, but it keeps you from forgetting to do it at all!
25. Automate tasks: If you often forget to pay your bills, set them on autopay (if your banking account allows for it).
26. Don’t try and multi-task: Multi-tasking is a myth. What you’re actually doing is switching your attention back and forth between multiple tasks, which can be distracting and reduces the amount of attention your giving to each thing.
27. Strategically place triggers/reminders around the house: For example, if you want to remember to walk the dog, leave the leash sitting by the back door. If you want to remember to buy milk tomorrow, leave the empty carton sitting on the counter.
28. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, allow your support system to take tasks off your plate.
29. Use a mnemonic device: A mnemonic device is any technique a person uses to help improve their ability to remember something. It often involves encoding information through multiple pathways or coming up with ways to trigger the information. A fun and effective example is the memory palace.
30. Allow yourself to take breaks from your stress and grief. Consider engaging in activities that help increase well-being.
31. Give yourself a break: Try not to feel too embarrassed when you forget your good friend’s son’s first name or even an important date like a birthday or anniversary. Be open and honest with others about your forgetfulness. You can always say, “Sorry, I have grief-brain!”
32. If you’re having a hard time remembering names, ask a friend to stand close to you and remind you, admit you don’t remember the person’s name and blame it on you grief brain, or just avoid using names in conversation.
33. Use sticky notes as reminders.
34. Take it easy on days when you feel “off”.
35. Take advantage of days when you feel “on”.
36. Have a designated spot for important things like keys. I, for one, have multiple designated spots for chapstick because I’m lost without it
37. Don’t try and take on difficult or complicated tasks before your ready. Don’t set yourself up for failure or disappointment. So, if you’ve just experienced a loss, maybe hold off on that ‘Intro to Astro Physics’ class.
38. Make tasks more manageable by breaking them down into smaller steps/subgoals
39. If you do lose something, try not to freak out. I know, easier said than done when the Target cashier is impatiently waiting for you to find your wallet, but freaking out isn’t going to help.
40. Get duplicates of items that are often misplaced: For example, make a few extra house keys or buy a duplicate of your daughter’s favorite stuffed animal.
41. Talk to yourself: If you’re worried about losing something, talk to yourself about it. For example say, “This is my credit card, I’m putting it in my coat pocket. When I get home and take my coat off in the coat closet, I need to remember to remove my credit card.”
42. Hit rewind: Do you ever find yourself standing in the kitchen and you can’t remember why? Ever call a friend only to forget what you wanted to say? Do you pick up your phone to do something, get distracted by social media, and then can’t remember what it was? Of course, you do! Whenever you’ve wound up somewhere and can’t remember why picture what you were doing/thinking about just prior.
43. Take a picture: For example, if you’re worried you won’t remember where you parked your car, take a picture of the parking lot section.
44. Take a screenshot: I use screenshots to help me remember things all the time. If I stumble upon a recipe I want to make, I take a screenshot of the ingredients. If I read an article about the best new shows of the season and I want to watch 3 of them, I take a screenshot of the show titles in the article. If you don’t know how to take a screenshot on your phone, it’s really easy – just Google how to take a screenshot and the type of phone you use.
45. Take a notebook everywhere: If you’re a pen and paper person, carry a small notebook with you for notes and reminders.
46. Try to give yourself more than enough time/don’t rush: I’ve locked my keys in my car more times than I care to admit but every time it’s because I’m rushing or late (which only made me later). I’m willing to bet rushing is the cause of most forgotten lunches. Sad!
47. Shop online: If you’re having trouble completing errands and/or grocery shopping without forgetting a number of items, make use of your online shopping options.
48. If you lose your train of thought while speaking, pause and breathe. Amongst friends, this is no big deal. But losing your train of thought while in a meeting, presentation, interview, etc can be significantly more stressful. Try not to panic, simply take a moment to refocus. Also, try not to be too embarrassed, it happens to everyone.
49. Reduce distractions when reading, working, or studying.
50. Rehearse information: Information only lasts in short term memory for about 20 seconds without rehearsal. So when you’re trying to remember something like an address, phone number, or directions, keep repeating it until you can write it down or commit it to memory.
51. Don’t worry about memorizing things you can look up.
52. Simplify the information you’re trying to remember or ask others to simplify it for you. For example, ask doctors, lawyers, funeral directors, etc to break things down into layperson language.
53. Ask people to email or text you with information: If your friend calls you up to invite you to dinner at a specific place and time, at the end of the conversation ask – “Can you send me a text message with the location and time as soon as we hang up?” If you don’t feel comfortable asking them to do it, text yourself the information instead.
54. Ask people to remind you of previous conversations: It’s okay to ask for a refresher, whether you’ve forgotten a name, relation, or entire story.
55. Start work meetings with a recap of the previous meeting: Make it a general rule that you start all meeting with a recap of the prior meeting. If you don’t have the authority to make general rules or to ask for a recap, keep meeting notes and review them on your own.
56. Summarize the most important points at the end of meetings/classes: You aren’t going to remember every single detail of a meeting or class (nor should you), instead, summarize the most important points that you want to remember.
57. Have a sense of humor about your forgetfulness
58. If you’re worried about forgetting things about your loved one, make a project of writing memories down and gathering pictures.
59. Explore different pathways for remembering. Memory can be accessed by many different routes. For example, when you return to an old place you may be flooded with memories. Also, sensory pathways like smells and sounds can trigger certain memories.
60. Share memories with others: For starters, social connection is beneficial to your mental and physical well-being. Additionally, talking to others about memories, theirs and yours, can help make your memories three-dimensional with details you may never have known or forgotten.
61. Watch old home videos
62. Keep photographs everywhere: On your walls, on your phone, on your desk at work, etc.
63. Bookmark this page so you don’t forget these tips
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