Memory Loss and Anxiety

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 18, 2021

memory loss, memory problems anxiety symptoms

Memory loss, memory problems, forgetfulness, and short-term memory lapses are common anxiety disorder symptoms, including Anxiety Attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive disorder, and others.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and loss of memory.

Memory loss anxiety symptom common descriptions:

  • You have difficulty learning, remembering, and recalling new information.
  • It seems like you now struggle with learning new things.
  • You might also block on information that you think you should know.
  • It feels like you have serious cognitive impairment.
  • Your memory can feel so bad that you believe you have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • You might also have difficulty remembering where you placed things, who you just called, what you just talked about, or what you were looking for or thinking about.
  • You uncharacteristically have difficulty remembering names, phone numbers, email addresses, or facts.
  • Things that you would normally not forget, you now forget.
  • You find it difficult to learn and grasp new concepts.
  • It seems it takes much longer to learn, remember, and recall new things.
  • It seems like you have a ‘hole’ in your memory.
  • You seem more forgetful than usual.
  • You might even become concerned because your memory isn’t as good as it used to be.
  • You are forgetting things you normally wouldn’t forget.
  • Your memory problems are becoming so severe, you fear you might be losing your mind.

Some examples include:

  • Forget what you just ate for dinner.
  • Forget what you were just talking about.
  • Forget where you placed an item a short time ago.
  • Continually misplace your phone or glasses.
  • Frequently forget to shut the lights off.
  • Have forgotten what you did last night (or earlier this morning).
  • You repeatedly remind yourself what you need to do, but you forget easily and have to again remind yourself.

Memory loss anxiety symptoms can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you might struggle with memory loss once in a while and not that often, have lapses of memory off and on, or have issues with memory all the time.

Memory loss anxiety symptoms can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

Memory loss anxiety symptoms can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur “out of the blue” and for no apparent reason.

Memory loss anxiety symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves where you are having trouble remembering things one moment but seem to have no problem the next.

Memory problems can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including memory loss symptoms.

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Why anxiety can cause memory loss

Medical Advisory

There are a number of reasons why anxiety can cause memory loss. Here are four:

1. The stress response changes the electrical activity in the brain

Apprehensive behavior (anxiety) activates the stress response, which causes a number of physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat.[1][2]

Some of these changes cause an increase in electrical activity in parts of the brain. Increased electrical activity causes the brain to generate an increase in thought generation and at a faster rate.

An increase in thought generation can cause our attention to be easily distracted, which can cause split attention and focus making learning and remembering difficult.

2. The stress response alters brain function

The stress response suppresses the rationalization areas of the brain (the cortex) and increases the activity in the fear center of the brain (the amygdala and others).

These changes make it easier to detect and react to danger.

While this change in brain function can benefit us when in danger, the downside is that it reduces memory performance.

3. The stress response suppresses the hippocampus - the learning and memory area of the brain

The hippocampus is thought to be the primary area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Stress hormones suppress the activity in the hippocampus making it more difficult to store and retrieve information.

Since the stress response causes many body-wide changes, stress responses stress the body. Stress has been linked to reduced memory function.

For more information:
Short-term Stress Can Affect Learning And Memory
ScienceDaily (Mar. 13, 2008) — Short-term stress lasting as little as a few hours can impair brain-cell communication in areas associated with learning and memory, University of California, Irvine researchers have found.

4. Stress can cause fatigue, and fatigue can impair memory

Stress, including anxiety-caused stress, taxes the body’s energy resources harder and faster than normal. Overly taxed energy resources can cause the body to become fatigued. Fatigue can impair memory.

Moreover, studies have shown that the brain tires more quickly than the rest of the body. An exhausted brain loses its ability to think, remember, and reason much sooner than the body fatigues.

Have you noticed your memory is not as sharp when you’re tired? That’s why.

5. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes caused by the stress response.

When stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body has a more difficult time recovering. Incomplete recovery can cause the body to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness. We call this state “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[3][4]

Hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated. Experiencing memory problems is a common indication of hyperstimulation (chronic stress).

These are just five of the many ways anxiety and stress can adversely affect memory.

Another consideration is that those who experience chronic anxiety often develop a habit of being “internally focused” (ruminate about their health, how they feel, the implications of anxiety disorder and how it might affect their future, concerns about their recovery, questions about recovery, what others will think, how their struggle might affect their loved ones, and so on).

When anxious people become internally focused, they are easily distracted by all of their “what if” scenarios and implications of long-term suffering.

It’s also common for anxious people to become so obsessed with trying to figure out their “anxiety condition” that everything else takes a back seat, including their attention and focus on the external parts of their lives.

Internally focused and “what if” thinking can become so automatic that many sufferers aren’t even aware they are doing it.

Unfortunately, when short-term memory and thinking problems occur, many people become frightened and think that they may be losing their mind, think that they may be on the doorstep of a complete mental breakdown, or think that their thinking and memory problems are an indication of a serious mental or biological illness. These anxieties can add even more stress to an already overly stressed body.

There are other factors, as well.

6. Other factors

Associated with anxiety, there are other factors that can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, such as:

Select the relevant link for more information.

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How to get rid of memory loss anxiety symptoms?

When memory loss anxiety symptoms are caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the active stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, memory loss anxiety symptoms should subside.

Keep in mind, it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response, such as a panic attack. This is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When this memory loss anxiety symptom is caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress), such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it can take much longer for the body to recover and this symptom subsides.

Nevertheless, containing your anxious behavior and reducing your body’s stress should cause the cessation of the symptom in time. Keep in mind, however, that recovering from hyperstimulation often takes much longer than most people realize.

We explain hyperstimulation and realistic recovery expectations in more detail in the Recovery Support area of our website.

Stress reduction

Since memory loss anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress, any type of stress reduction will help alleviate this symptom. Stress reduction ideas include:

  • Regular deep relaxation/meditation
  • Getting good sleep
  • Increasing rest
  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Ensuring you are well-hydrated
  • Take mini rest breaks
  • Have fun, such as with a hobby or good friends
  • Manage stress well

To name a few.

Nevertheless, when the body has recovered, anxiety-caused memory loss will disappear and your normal memory will return. Therefore, this anxiety symptom needn’t be a cause for concern.

If you are having difficulty eliminating hyperstimulation or containing your worry, we recommend connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome troublesome anxiety and what can seem like unmanageable worry.

For a more detailed explanation about all anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page. Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Memory Loss anxiety symptoms.


1. Selye, H. (1956). The stress of life. New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.

2. Folk, Jim and Folk, Marilyn. “The Stress Response And Anxiety Symptoms.”, August 2019.

3. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018,

4. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015,