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Memory Loss and Anxiety

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: February 21, 2020

Memory loss anxiety symptom description:

  • 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.
  • 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 you think it should be.
  • You also might have difficulty thinking, concentrating, and/or forming thoughts.
  • You might also find yourself easily distracted.
  • You might also find your thinking feels like it is muddled and impaired.
  • Some people describe this symptom as being “foggy-headed.”
  • It also might seem as though your thoughts are illusive and things that you once knew seem hard to comprehend or recall.
  • It might also feel like normal intellectual tasks seem much more difficult.
  • You might also find it hard to focus and concentrate, that you are more forgetful (forget things that you normally wouldn’t), or that you have difficulty focusing on and carrying on conversations.
  • You might also start something and uncharacteristically forget what you were doing or what you wanted to do.
  • It also may seem like you can maintain your focus and that you have a million thoughts going on at the same time all demanding your attention.

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

Memory loss anxiety symptoms may 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 it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

Memory loss anxiety symptoms can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Why does anxiety cause memory loss symptoms?

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

1. Stress increases the electrical activity in the brain.

Behaving in an anxious manner causes the body to activate the stress response, which causes a number of physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with danger. A part of these changes cause an increase in the electrical activity in the brain. This increase causes the brain to generate an increase in thought generation and at a faster rate. This change can cause our attention to be more easily distracted, which can cause split attention and focus making learning and remembering difficult.

2. Stress responses suppress the rationalization areas of the brain (the cortex) and increase the activity in the fear center of the brain (the amygdala).

This combination reduces the ability to logically rationalize and process information while at the same time increases the awareness of danger, fear, apprehension, gloom and doom - many describe anxiety as a sense of sudden or ongoing foreboding and doom.

3. Acute or chronic stress can cause the suppression of the hippocampus

Hippocampus suppression - the learning and memory area of the brain - can make it more difficult for the brain to store and retrieve information.

For more information on this point:
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 taxes the body’s resources harder and faster than normal, causing it to become tired more quickly.

When the body becomes tired, it has a harder time functioning normally. As well, studies have shown that the brain tires more quickly than the rest of the body, so an exhausted brain loses its ability to think, remember, and reason sooner than the body fatigues. That’s why when we’re tired, we don’t think as well as when we’re not tired.

These are just four of the many factors associated with stress (including the stress caused by being anxious) and how it can negatively affect our thinking and short-term memory.

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

When they 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 them to become so obsessed with trying to figure out their 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 habituated and automatic that many sufferers aren’t even aware that 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.

How to get rid of memory loss anxiety symptoms?

When memory loss is caused by apprehensive behavior and the resulting stress response, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active response, this feeling should subside and you should return to your normal self. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response (such as that from an anxiety attack). But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When memory loss is caused by persistent stress, such as that from stress-response hyperstimulation, it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where this symptom is eliminated.

Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered, anxiety caused memory loss will completely subside. Therefore, this anxiety symptom needn’t be a cause for concern.

You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about this feeling. Sure, experiencing memory loss can be unsettling and even troublesome. But again, when your body has recovered from an active stress response and/or hyperstimulation, this anxiety symptom will completely disappear.

If you are having difficulty containing your worry, you may want to connect with one of our anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome what seems 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 is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources:

Return to Anxiety Disorders Signs and Symptoms section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including anxiety and memory loss.