Memory loss is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety, affecting around half of all people who suffer from it in some way. While it may seem like this shouldn’t be surprising, since so many other symptoms of anxiety are centered on cognitive impairment, you might be surprised to learn that anxiety and memory loss are actually two different things. It can be tempting to assume that memory loss is caused by anxiety when in reality it’s just as likely to be caused by any number of other factors.
1) Anxiety can cause memory loss.
Anxiety can cause memory loss in a variety of ways. It can trigger a panic attack, which may cause someone to blackout or lose track of their thoughts. It can also lead to rumination, which is the process of constantly thinking about something over and over again. Rumination is believed to be one of the major causes of what is called overgeneral memory, which is when someone remembers all the details around a particular event but forgets the details about other events happening at the same time.
2) The more severe the anxiety, the greater the memory loss.
Anxiety can be a huge factor in memory loss, and the more severe the anxiety, the more severe the memory loss will likely be. The severity of anxiety is often measured by what’s called an anxiety disorder. The main types of anxiety disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Phobia, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as well as many others.
3) The effects of anxiety on memory are usually temporary.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion that people experience on a daily basis. It can have physical effects such as chest pain, shortness of breath, stomach aches, and more. However, anxiety can also impact the brain’s ability to recall memories from the past. Many people experience short-term memory loss when they are feeling anxious or stressed. This type of memory loss usually lasts only for a few minutes or hours before everything comes back to you in full clarity.
4) Chronic anxiety can lead to long-term memory problems.
Chronic anxiety can lead to long-term memory problems. It’s not clear why this happens, but some experts suspect that the stress hormone cortisol might be a factor. Cortisol is released when your body is under stress, and it may interfere with the hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for memory formation. In addition, chronic anxiety has been linked to lower levels of glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter important for learning new information.
5) There are treatments available for anxiety and memory loss.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders you can find in the United States. Fortunately, there are different types of effective treatments that can be helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of treatment that has been scientifically proven to be effective. CBT helps people identify what thoughts and behaviors contribute to their anxiety, so they can then make changes for a more positive outcome. If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, talk to your doctor about CBT as an option for treatment.