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The joy of letting things go





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Whatever its other properties, memory is a reliable troublemaker, especially when navigating its stockpile of embarrassments and moral stumbles.

Ten minutes into an important job interview and here come screenshots from a past disaster: the spilled latte, the painful attempt at humour. Two dates into a warming relationship and up come flashbacks of an earlier, abusive partner.

The bad timing is one thing. But why can’t those events somehow be submerged amid the brain’s many other dimming bad memories?

Memory is protective, holding on to red flags so they can be waved at you later, to guide your future behaviour. But forgetting is protective, too. Most people find a way to bury, or at least reshape, the vast majority of their worst moments. Could that process be harnessed or somehow optimised?

Perhaps. In the past decade or so, brain scientists have begun to piece together how memory degrades and forgetting happens. A new study, published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that some things can be intentionally relegated to oblivion, although the method for doing so is slightly counterintuitive.

For the longest time, forgetting was seen as a passive process of decay and the enemy of learning. But forgetting is a dynamic ability, crucial to memory retrieval, mental stability and maintaining one’s sense of identity. That’s because remembering is a dynamic process. At a biochemical level, memories are not pulled from the shelf like stored videos but pieced together — reconstructed — by the brain.

“When we recall something, the act of recalling activates a biochemical process that can solidify and reorganise the memory that is stored,” said Andre Fenton, a neuroscientist at New York University.

This process can improve memory accuracy in the long term. But activating a memory also makes it temporarily fragile and vulnerable to change. This is where intentional forgetting comes in. It’s less about erasing than editing: incrementally revising, refocusing and potentially dimming the central incident of the memory.

To intentionally forget is to remember differently, on purpose. Importantly, for scientists and therapists, intentional forgetting may also be an ability that can be practiced and deliberately strengthened.

In the new study, a team led by Tracy Wang, a postdoctoral psychology fellow at the University of Texas, Austin, had 24 participants sit in a brain-imaging machine while they conducted a memory test. Wang’s co-authors were Jarrod Lewis-Peacock of the University of Texas and Katerina Placek of the University of Pennsylvania.

In the experiment, each subject studied a series of some 200 images, a mix of faces and scenes, and identified the faces as male or female, and the scenes as indoor or outdoor. Each image appeared for a few seconds, then disappeared, at which point the participant was asked to either remember or forget it; after a few seconds delay, the next image appeared. The brain scanner focused on activity in the ventral temporal cortex and the sensory cortex, regions that are especially active when a person focuses mental attention on simple images such as these.


After the participants finished, they were given a short rest and then a test. They looked at a series of images — ones they’d seen earlier and ones they hadn’t — and rated how confident they were at having seen each one. They scored well: They recalled 50 to 60 percent of the images they’d been instructed to remember and had successfully forgotten about 40 percent of the images they tried to erase from memory.

The payoff came with the imaging results. When a subject’s brain activity — a measure of internal mental attention — was especially high or especially low, it typically corresponded to a failed attempt to forget an image.

A concentrated effort to forget an unwanted memory did not help dim it, nor did mentally looking the other way. Rather, there seemed to be a sweet spot — neither too little mental attention, nor too much — that allowed a memory to come to mind and then fade, at least partly, of its own accord. You have to remember, just a little, to forget.

“This suggests a new route to successful forgetting,” the authors concluded. “To forget a memory, its mental representation should be enhanced to trigger memory weakening.”

Lewis-Peacock said: “When people were successful at doing this, there was a significant drop in their recognition confidence of images. Whether a person’s intent is to weaken memories as a part of therapy, or to change them or link them to other things as a part of daily living, this finding speaks directly to that.”

Lili Sahakyan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, who was not involved in the research, said: “This idea that memories have to be strengthened before they can be weakened is surprising in that it’s not how we presume memory works. But it’s a very solid finding, and we are following up on it.”

The insight joins an accumulating body of evidence casting doubt on a purely linear model of forgetting, which contends that less mental attention means less remembering. That model appears to hold for some kinds of memories; deliberate ignoring is central to the forgetting strategy known as suppression.

Other strategies are not strictly linear, in that they require some engagement with the memory. One is substitution: deliberately linking an unwanted memory to other thoughts, which help alter the unwanted content when it is later retrieved. For instance, a humiliating memory could be diminished by focusing less on the feeling of shame and more on the friends who provided subsequent support.

Scientists have not yet worked out which strategies are best suited to particular kinds of unwanted memories. But any clearer understanding would be a gift to therapists working with people with disabling memories of trauma, shame or neglect. Such memories don’t fade; they remain, either as vivid recollections or as subconscious or partially conscious sources of dread and despair. A therapist’s task is to guide the patient back through these memories in a way that blunts their sting, rather than reinforces them — a dicey and often painstaking process.

Lewis-Peacock said that his lab was looking at using real-time neurofeedback to nudge people who are trying to dim a memory into the mental state suggested by the new study: moderate engagement with the memory, not too much nor too little.

“We hope they can use that to say ‘Think more,’ or ‘Think less,’ to get themselves into that mental sweet spot,” he said.


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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard




Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.


However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard




President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health




Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.


Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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