Anxiety can greatly affect your memory and it can be difficult to deal with such a situation in your life. When you are already suffering from anxiety, memory problems can further add to your anxiety. Anxiety causes a person to feel persistent and strong feelings of fear and worry and these revolve mostly about situations or things that are out of your control or you just cannot change them. Anxiety creates a state of hypervigilance and persistent stress and this is what takes a toll on a person’s memory.
Anxiety is a vicious loop of worry and nervousness where a person is unable to stop thinking or worrying about any potential bad outcomes. A lot of mental energy gets exhausted when you are in this anxiety circle. This toll on a person’s mental reserves causes deterioration in memory and brain function.
Memory loss caused by anxiety leads to more anxiety and this becomes a circle which can be difficult to break.
How Does Anxiety Affect Your Memory?(7)
More than remembering the important events in your life, anxiety often affects a person’s working memory. Anxiety affects a person’s memory by making it difficult to remember stuff like:
- Directions to someone’s house.
- Instructions regarding a task.
- A play date for your child or maybe just a date with someone.
- You forget the content of something you have studied.
- You tend to forget any conversations you have had with someone.
What are the Effects of Anxiety Related Memory Loss?
Memory loss caused by anxiety can cause you to:
- Forget events, such as birthdays leading conflict in relationships.
- Inability to recall important details at school or work.
- Difficulty in easily retaining daily activities, such as cooking, driving etc.
Anxiety-Related Memory Loss: Causes or Factors Playing a Part in It
Some of the causes for memory loss related with anxiety are:
1. Lack of Sleep/Insomnia(1, 2)
It is difficult to get sufficient and sound sleep when one suffers from anxiety. When a person suffers from anxiety, that person tends to think and rethink anxious thoughts, which prevents from falling asleep or lead to disturbing dreams or waking up frequently.
Even a couple of nights of bad sleep can leave a person irritable, foggy minded, distracted and difficulty in focusing. If the sleep deprivation persists, then it can cause serious health problems, such as memory loss. Sleep is vital for a good memory and overall function of the brain.
2. Increased Levels of Cortisol(4, 9)
Cortisol is a hormone that is popularly referred to as stress hormone because it helps in preparing and pushing your body into fight-flight-freeze mode when a person experiences any danger, threat or increased stress. It is like a natural alarm system built within the body.
Cortisol is responsible for various vital functions and the correct amount of this hormone can help in formation of memories.
Mild anxiety can help slightly improve memory because of this reason. Whereas, excessive cortisol has the opposite effect where someone suffering from severe or chronic anxiety will have increased cortisol levels. This increased cortisol levels occur as a result of the immense worry about anything perceived as harmful experience and unnecessary anxiety
This constant or chronic stress experienced makes the body trapped in a fight-flight-freeze response, where it adopts a combat mode prepared to fight any danger.
3. Anxiety: The Main Culprit of Memory Issues(5)
Living with anxiety is a great distraction from things that are actually important for us. A person suffering from anxiety will have constant worries occupying their mind and there seems to be no escape from such troubling thoughts no matter how much you try. This kind of anxiety, distress and worry becomes a daily background track for your mind. A person desperately tries to cope and manage the anxious thoughts at the same time.
This kind of division of the brainpower takes a great toll on your memory and makes it difficult to concentrate on the things that need concentrating, thanks to the everlasting anxiety in your life.
As an anxious person tackles their worries and its causes, the brain starts to prioritize these kinds of threats and this results in various other pieces of information to fade away.
Persistent anxiety causes forgetfulness and after it has happened a couple of times, then a person realizes that something serious is happening and this leads to more worrying regarding memory issues and concentration.
Additionally, the little things that a person forgets, become more pronounced when under stress and start to occur more frequently. A normal forgetfulness acts as a trigger for further anxious thoughts.
4. Not Facing the Problems and Pushing Back Unwanted Memories
It is human nature of many to bury or push away distressing or traumatic memories. If the anxiety reaches to a point where a person is so exhausted and overwhelmed that it becomes difficult to function in daily life, then the anxious person suppresses these memories to cope with their life activities.
A specific event may not be forgotten completely, but if a person suppresses it, then details of that event start to fade away. This act of burying any disturbing thoughts can appear to be beneficial, however, does not resolve the root cause of your problem. Anxiety which is not addressed on time then worsens with time and affects concentration and memory more as time goes on.
5. The Merry-Go-Round of Memory Loss & Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are brief episodes where the patient experiences profound fear and this can occur when suffering from profound anxiety.
People suffering from panic attacks have difficulty recollecting what occurred during or before the attack. Memory loss resulting from panic has the same causes as anxiety related memory loss.
Panic attacks develop suddenly and usually without any warning and this produces terrifying and overwhelming symptoms such as (5):
- Racing or pounding heart.
- Feelings of choking or difficulty in breathing.
- Blurred vision, tingling or numbness.
- Shaking, trembling and sweating.
- A feeling of loss of control
- Impending feeling of doom
- People experiencing a panic attack can feel as if they are having a heart attack or as if they are dying. The patient loses track of time, be totally preoccupied with these unpleasant feelings and can’t thing about anything rationally.
Once a patient has experienced a panic attack there is the constant worry of having another one again. This leads to further increase in anxiety resulting in more deterioration of the concentration and memory problems.
How To Cope With Memory Loss From Anxiety?
With the right treatment and time, the symptoms of anxiety improve and so does the memory; however, one needs to have patience as this is not going to improve overnight. Some tips to cope with memory loss occurring from anxiety and to increase your concentration and recollection power are:
Spending Time with Your Friends and Family
Keeping in touch and meeting with your family and friends helps improve your memory by alleviating your anxiety. Enjoying time your loved ones distracts you from your worries and makes it easier to focus and remember things.
Talking about your worries to people who care about you can also help. Knowing you have their support can help relieve stress, decrease cortisol levels and help you sleep more easily.
Write Down the Important Things
Jotting down any important information helps your memory by increasing the chances of remembering things, as when you write things that you have to remember then it makes it more likely that you are able to retain and recollect this information. Writing down also serves as a physical reminder for the things that you tend to forget. Maintaining a daily planner or a journal or making notes on your calendar helps in remembering things.
You can make use of the today’s advanced technology to help your memory problems, such as smartphone notifications or different apps that can give you reminders regarding any important event or meetings.
Journaling not only helps with your memory loss, but also helps in relieving and managing your anxiety. Putting down on paper about your anxious thoughts and what triggers or causes them helps in giving some rest to your mind by easing your mental energy. When your anxiety decreases, your memory also improves.
Training/Exercising Your Brain(3)
Just like your body, your mind also needs exercise to be fit and healthy. Brain and memory games, such as crosswords, Sudoku, Scrabble, word puzzles and chess helps exercise your brain and improve your brain function and memory. These fun games and puzzles also serve as a useful distraction from worries and anxious thoughts.
Your brain can be made stronger and you can also improve your memory by(8):
- Learning or re-learning any musical instrument helps in improving your brain function.
- Learning a new language is a great way to improve your memory and train your brain to be strong.
- Regular exercise and other physical activities help in your memory and anxiety also. Physical activity helps in alleviating the symptoms of depression and anxiety; enhance your mood and improve overall brain health.
- Exercise also helps in tiring you out, which helps in sleeping better and longer. Good sleep helps in improvement of memory loss and anxiety symptoms.
- Learning a new skill, such as painting, knitting, cooking helps in strengthening your brain.
Seeking Support to Improve Your Memory
Suffering from mild symptoms of anxiety can improve on its own; especially when combined with better lifestyle choices. However, if the anxiety is persistent, then it will not go away without seeking help from a trained mental health professional. Talking to your therapist about your anxiety symptoms and memory problems will enable the therapist to explore the triggers and the causes of your problems and come up with a customized memory loss treatment plan to resolve the problems.
If the treatment is not working for you, then you and your doctor need to work together to find the most effective treatment strategy for you. Some anxiety patients find relief with therapy; whereas other need medication along with therapy to feel better.
One needs to learn coping skills, natural remedies and explore alternative treatments to relieve memory loss caused by anxiety.
Can Memory Loss Occur From Other Reasons? (6)
There are some other potential causes for memory problems and these consist of:
- Emotional distress, trauma or depression.
- Traumatic head injuries.
- Chemotherapy and brain tumors
- Persistent substance or alcohol use.
- Memory loss can also occur as a side effect of some medications.
It is important to observe and monitor your memory problems, how frequent they are and how difficult it is for you to remember or recall things or events.
Forgetting things occasionally; especially accompanied with poor sleep and anxiety may not be serious at the moment, but if not paid attention to, can get worse with time.
When Should You Consult Your Doctor?(8)
You need to meet your healthcare professional when you are regularly experiencing things like:
- Losing or misplacing your things regularly.
- Difficulty in completing daily tasks.
- Repeat the same things or ask the same questions again and again.
- If you fail to remember safety precautions, such as locking your doors or turning off the stove.
- Having problems in personal relationships or at school or work.
- Forgetting what words to use in sentences.
- Difficulty in remembering scheduled events or appointments.
- You are mixing up words or repeating the same stories to the same people without realizing it.
Memory loss compounded with anxiety can be very distressing and disrupt daily activities of life; however, seeking treatment and learning coping skills help a lot in managing the anxiety and its resulting memory loss.
As the symptoms of anxiety improve there will also be an improvement in memory too. Tackling the underlying causes of memory problems and anxiety, inculcating relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga and breathing exercises help immensely with anxiety and memory problems.
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