Anyone who suffers from anxiety knows how exhausting and all-consuming it can be. Because of that, it can lead to a particularly unwelcome side effect: memory loss. “Imagine that anxiety is powerful energy that pulsates through the body and mind and perpetuates negative emotions and sensationalized thoughts,” says psychologist Carder Stout, PhD. “The energy may become so dominant that it overrides our normal ability to function and self-regulate.”
In other words, when you’re in this state of total anguish, your memory can suffer, since you are unable to focus on anything other than your anxiety spiral. Or alternatively, your brain may also block a memory as a coping mechanism for handling trauma, Dr. Stout adds. (I can attest to the power of anxiety brain fog: It was a running joke in college among my friends that I had the memory of an elephant, but several anxious years later, I found myself in a hypochondriac-style panic, convinced I was suffering from early-onset dementia.)
When you’re in a state of total anguish, your memory can suffer since you are unable to focus on anything other than your anxiety spiral, Dr. Carder Stout says.
Research shows that people with high anxiety produce more of the stress hormone cortisol, which, on it’s own “is known to affect the brain and may impair memory,” Patricia Allen, a nurse practitioner and executive director of medical services for a clinical and holistic care center, says. On top of this, Allen adds that people with anxiety tend to experience poor sleep, which can have a negative impact on memory, focus, concentration skills. And since psychiatrist Steve Levine, MD, founder and CEO of Actify Neurotherapies, notes that difficulty concentrating is also a direct symptom of anxiety, it can spark a vicious cycle of panic. “Concentration difficulties make it harder to take in new information, which is then not available for recall,” he says. “This can then become a new focus of worry—’I’m losing my mind!’ or ‘I have dementia!’—thus compounding the problem.”
The long-term solution to repair memory and prevent future related issues is to address the root of the problem: anxiety.
Though the idea of losing bits of your memory can be alarming, it’s not necessarily permanent. The long-term solution to repair memory and prevent future related issues is to address the root of the problem: anxiety. Dr. Levine explains that at its core, anxiety-related recall issues aren’t in fact memory disorders, so the treatment requires dealing with the underlying cause. “Improve the anxiety, and the worry about memory should follow,” he says. For more intense memories, Dr. Stout says that there are methods and techniques used in certain types of therapy (primarily depth therapy, which focuses on the unconscious) that can help uncover the missing links.
While knowledge is power and acknowledging the presence of anxiety is helpful for mitigating its symptoms on your own, if you suspect you’re suffering from a mental-health disorder, it’s best to see a professional.
Looking for a mental health expert? Here are tips for choosing a therapist and the emerging therapy trend that involves going for a run.
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