Your memories can be sparked by anything, like how the smell of apple pie brings you back to grandma’s house, or a soft blanket may make you think of your childhood pet dog. You can also help new memories endure by following any of the five senses.
To get a better understanding of how our memories work, our Weekender team interviewed Marisa Palance, a Limited License Psychologist based in Northville, Michigan. Palance has been practicing since 2010 and she specializes in working with adolescents and adults who struggle with anxiety, depression, relational difficulties, and stressful life changes.
“Memories are formed when those neural pathways are activated. Pathways for emotionally charged experiences, such as the birth of a child, are stored immediately and usually result in a long-term memory,” Palance said. “Conversely, some situations may require repetition before that information is able to be recalled later. Notably, the more emotionally charged an experience is, the stronger the neural pathways tend to become.”
Home environments can play a role in forming memories, according to Palance.
“Creating a safe, secure, and welcoming home environment provides a space to relax and decompress from our busy schedules out in the world,” Palance said. “Homes that are stimulating, but not overwhelming, grant more opportunities to create lasting memories with friends and family.”
Below is what you can do to bring back some of your favorite holiday memories or to help new memories stick and everlast, all the while creating a welcoming home environment.
Smell: Spark Up a Stovetop Simmer Pot
Certain smells can trigger certain memories. “Our sense of smell holds the strongest link to memory and is connected to the same areas of the brain responsible for emotion and memory; recent studies demonstrate that some memories are even stored in the olfactory bulb itself,” shared Palance.
You can activate memories by recreating smells with simmer pots. A simmer pot is an easy, inexpensive, all-natural way to transform your home into a winter wonderland. Just put the ingredients into a pot, cover with water and let it heat up and simmer. Just don’t forget to check it every half hour and refill with water to prevent burning. Below is a short list of recipes to get you started:
-Winter Wonderland: Fresh pine branches, cracked cardamom pods, orange slices and sage mimic the scent of a crisp forest on a winter’s morning.
-Holiday Favorite: Cranberries, cloves and lemon slices are a holiday favorite.
-Sugarplum Fairy: Lemon slices, lemon peel, rosemary and a hint of vanilla goes perfectly with the season.
-Sugar and Spice: Apple, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks, allspice berries and cardamom pods are perfect for any party.
Taste: Snack on Puppy Chow
A common Midwestern childhood snack, Puppy Chow, aka Muddy Buddies, is the perfect sweet treat for your holiday parties. With only six ingredients, this winter snack is quick to make in a pinch. Bring back the memory of your middle school’s holiday break and waking up early to sneak a look at presents with this recipe!
You will need:
-1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
-½ cup creamy peanut butter
-¼ cup unsalted butter
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-6 cups Rice Chex cereal
-2 cups powdered sugar
- Microwave the chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave it on high in 30 second increments until mixture is smooth when stirred. Add the vanilla extract and stir.
- Pour the cereal into a large mixing bowl, add the mixture and stir until it’s coated.
- Add the cereal into a large bag and add the powdered sugar. Shake the bag until the cereal is coated. Spread on parchment paper or waxed paper and let it cool.
Touch- Get Cozy for the Season
When the weather gets colder, one phrase comes to mind, “Don’t forget to bundle up!” You might think of the seventeen layers (plus a hat, scarf, and gloves) that your parents might’ve made you wear before you went outside to play. Perhaps you think of the thick blanket that your pets love to burrow under when it’s time for bed or the fluffy slippers that were shaped like bears that you wore downstairs.
“Positive physical touch releases oxytocin and serotonin, along with other “feel good” hormones,” Palance said. “The softness of materials, a warm bath, a loved one’s embrace, or the crackling of a warm fire ignites those same hormones and neural pathways that were formed early in life and reinforced over the years from infancy. The experiences we had of being swaddled, held, rocked, and tended to when upset result in the association of softness and warmth with safety and security.”
Sight and Hearing- Indulge in a Holiday Movie Marathon
Hearing a song is a common way to trigger memories- and watching classic holiday films is another way. Between the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s important to relax and enjoy the season, too. Watch your favorite holiday movies, listen to your go-to holiday hits and bring out the festive decor to make this holiday season one to remember.
“Decorating and hosting around the holidays can be stressful,” Palance said. “It is important to have realistic expectations for the holidays and have fun. Set mini goals while prepping for all the holiday festivities. If you live with others, make new memories by inviting everyone to join in the decorating. Bring out holiday decor pieces that are meaningful and remind you of past holidays; share stories of those memories with your loved ones.”
About Marisa Palance: Along with anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, Palance also provides services to individuals diagnosed with Tourette’s or tic disorders utilizing the Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT) treatment program. Palance offers in-person sessions at her office in Northville, MI, as well as a Telehealth option for those who wish to meet virtually. She is available to contact by call or text at (248) 417-9121.