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Can Anxiety Cause Memory Loss?

Have you ever wondered if your anxiety is affecting your memory and making you forgetful? Do you find that during times of stress, you have a harder time remembering things? Or maybe you think that during times of anxiety, you were able to learn things easier.

The truth is that anxiety can both help and hurt your memory! To understand more about how this can happen let's learn a little bit more about our body’s response to anxiety.

The Fight or Flight Response

When you become anxious, your body triggers the fight or flight response via the amygdala in your brain. The amygdala is a very primitive part of the brain and will start a series of physical effects in your body including the release of adrenaline and cortisol. If you are frequently anxious, as are those with anxiety disorders, this response is chronic, and your nervous system is habitually washed in excessive amounts of cortisol. This can physically exhaust your body. On the helpful side, cortisol will increase the sugar that is available in your body to increase the energy in your muscles, and the glucose available in your brain for thinking, and will increase the substances in your bloodstream that your body uses to repair itself. However, excessive cortisol, especially if it occurs over a long period of time, can cause physical problems such as hypertension, obesity, headaches, breathing problems, heart attacks, or strokes.

It can also affect your memory in interesting ways.

Fight or Flight and Memory

With everyday, usual amounts of anxiety, your memory and ability to learn can actually be enhanced. Remember, the glucose in the brain is increased! However, with chronic stress or chronic anxiety, the body is stressed and memory is impaired. So for example, if you are a bit nervous about a test you have to take, or about a job interview, that anxiety might actually improve your performance. If you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, or some other form of chronic anxiety, your memory may suffer over time due to these higher levels of cortisol in your system.

Anxiety and Attention

Another thing to consider regarding how your memory is affected by anxiety is your ability to maintain attention. Attention is needed in order for your mind to transfer and store things in your memory. Normally, if you are attending to something, it is stored in your working memory and then moved into your long-term memory for you to be able to use it at a later time. If you aren’t paying attention to what is happening, it will not make it into your working memory and therefore has no chance of even being stored as a memory for later use. Anxiety can be very distracting and decrease your attention to what is happening around you. This is another way that it can affect your memory.

Anxiety, Sleep, and Memory

Often times with anxiety, your sleep is affected, and you may have chronic insomnia. If you are walking through your days sleepy and tired, then your attention to what is happening around you will be affected. This will negatively affect your ability to make and store new memories as well.

Some Tips to Help When You Can't Remember

Treatment for anxiety can be helpful and greatly lower your anxiety symptoms. However, this will take time In the meantime, try some of these strategies to help in your day-to-day life:

1. Use a calendar like Google Calendar or the one on your phone. Here you can record appointments and set reminders. You can also record those infrequent chores and events that you might not remember such as your dog’s monthly medication, your plans with your friends, a reminder to change your oil or your furnace filter, when your work or school assignments are due, or anything else you might think of.

2. Make a daily list of what you want to accomplish today, then order them from most important to least. Start at the top of the list and work your way down, crossing off items as you complete them. This will help you to remember everything you have to do, as well as help to motivate you with an added boost when you cross things off your list!

3. Set your alarm for things that are time-sensitive. If you have an appointment in an hour, but want to do some chores in the meantime, setting your alarm will help you remember the appointment so you can be on time.

4. Exercise daily, even if it’s just going for a quick 10 min walk. You’ll be amazed at how much this can help your anxiety as well as your memory! Exercise will also help you to sleep better which will indirectly help your memory.

Closing Thoughts

Therapy can be really helpful if you are struggling with memory issues related to anxiety. If you would like to talk further about this, please reach out today. I can be reached at this link for anxiety treatment.


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