Mental-Cognitive Symptoms

Overcoming Anxiety and Confusion

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Overcoming Anxiety and Confusion

While anxiety isn't necessarily the type of condition that causes neurological deficits, there are ways that anxiety appears to affect your brain that can cause a considerable amount of stress and make it more difficult to function.

One of those ways is confusion. Anxiety can, in an indirect way, lead to a significant amount of confusion. Overcoming that confusion is an important part of maintaining a high quality of life. Below, we'll explore the causes and effects of that confusion, along with tips for controlling it.

Confusion and Anxiety Disorders

Confusion is fairly complicated. It can hit those at the height of their anxiety, or affect those suffering from mild anxiety through the course of the day. It may even be a specific anxiety symptom, as the result of a traumatic event.

Confusion may be defined in several different ways, and each way may have its own causes:

  • General Forgetfulness One type of confusion is more of a general forgetfulness and trouble paying enough attention to things to keep track of what's going on. There are two issues that cause this. First, the release of cortisol (stress hormone) does play a role in memory loss, although the effects are rarely that severe. Second, anxiety is very distracting, and can make it hard to focus on the rest of your life around you.
  • Depersonalization/Derealization Severe stress and anxiety – especially during anxiety attacks and through extensive and severe stress responses – can also cause two issues known as depersonalization or derealization. These are when you suddenly feel like you're in a dream like state, or that reality isn't really reality. This can cause significant confusion, although the mind tends to have no idea what's going on. Depersonalization is a coping mechanism when your brain is too overwhelmed by stress. Nearly everyone snaps out of the confusion after a while, but it can be stressful when it occurs.
  • Confusion Over Anxiety Perhaps a bit more common is confusion over the anxiety itself. Often there is this lack of understanding of why you're feeling anxious. Some with generalized anxiety disorder, for example, feel constantly on edge but have no idea why they feel that way, leading to anxious confusion that can actually make their anxieties worse.

These are some of the types of confusion, and they're all valid. From a rush of stress hormones causing memory loss and difficulty concentrating to distortions in reality, all of these can be caused by anxiety.

How to Overcome Confusion

Overcoming those feelings of confusion can be tricky. There are several issues you need to try to stay on point in reality:

  • Taking Notes Memory loss from anxiety isn't the same as memory loss from a head injury or aging. It's not that the memories are lost permanently. It's that anxiety has a tendency to be so distracting that the person doesn't truly pay attention enough to new information to create the memory, and cortisol itself can make creating those memories more difficult. So learning to be more in the moment and take notes on life, writing down things you hear from someone else can be helpful.
  • Reality Exercises Some experts recommend various types of reality exercises to keep yourself more "in the moment." For example, some believe that running water over your hands and focusing on what that feels like can ensure that you're placed back in reality and overcoming any severe confusion issues. Others recommend looking for a color or closing your eyes and repeating affirmations to yourself. There are several interesting reality exercises you can try.
  • Exercise Exercise itself is more of a general anxiety reduction technique than a confusion technique, but it has the added benefit of actually stimulating the memory creation mechanism. Those that exercise tend to have a greater ability to focus and should be able to keep their mind on what's going on better than those that do not.

These are the more specific strategies for confusion, but the reality is that as long as you're still plagued with anxiety, there is always going to be a confusion risk. That's why it's so important to start treating your anxiety so that you can decrease that stress and have an easier time paying attention to the things around you.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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