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How Anxiety Can Cause Forgetfulness

Daniel Sher, MA, Clin Psychology
How Anxiety Can Cause Forgetfulness

Anxiety can have a profound effect on your body, at times causing strange, surprising and distressing symptoms. One symptom that often surprises people is that anxiety can cause forgetfulness.

There are issues related to anxiety that can lead to short-term memory loss and a general inability to remember things, and unfortunately as long as you live with anxiety you put yourself at risk for this forgetfulness to get worse. But there is good news - memory issues caused by anxiety are not permanent. Like most anxiety symptoms, your memory will probably return to normal levels of functioning as your anxiety levels are reduced. 

Causes of Forgetfulness From Anxiety

Your memory is actually very fragile. Your ability to create and recall memories is related to a variety of different factors, including things like nutrition and sleep. Did you know that when we sleep, our brains use this opportunity to sort and encode many of the memories that we have made during the day? Therefore, if you're not sleeping as result of anxiety, it's possible that you’re forgetful because your brain isn’t able to properly process what’s happening to you during the day. 

However, there are many other potential causes of forgetfulness as well. These include:

Anxiety causes numerous changes to happen to your brain and the way you think, and all of them can lead to issues that may contribute to forgetfulness.

How to Improve Your Memory if You Have Anxiety

People who are forgetful may benefit by adopting compensatory strategies, which help them to cope despite their temporary memory lapses. For example, if you know you're forgetful, then when someone tells you something important, try to write it down (on paper or using your phone) immediately. Post-it notes can also be used to help you remember important bits of information. 

People tend to test their memories when they have anxiety or decide that they don't need to make changes because "this time" they won't forget. There's simply no reason to take that risk, and unfortunately, forgetfulness can actually contribute to further anxiety. 

Another strategy you may want to try is starting a blog or journal and using it to write down all of your thoughts. Your blog - like a journal - can be made private so only you can read it, but you can use it to take note of anything you want to remember. 

This could include what you did that day, the conversations you had, who you talked to, etc. It could also include any distressing or anxiety-related thoughts and feelings that came up for you during the day. 

Apart from helping you to remember important facts, this can also help to improve your mood, which in turn can reduce your anxiety and improve your memory. Finally, keep in mind that taking steps to treat your underlying anxiety condition is likely to result in improved concentration and memory all-round.

Article Resources
  1. Small, Gary W. What we need to know about age related memory loss. BMJ: British Medical Journal 324.7352 (2002): 1502.
  2. Greendale, Gail A., et al. Higher basal cortisol predicts verbal memory loss in postmenopausal women: Rancho Bernardo Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 48.12 (2000): 1655.
  3. Schwabe, Lars, and Oliver T. Wolf. "Learning under stress impairs memory formation." Neurobiology of learning and memory 93.2 (2010): 183-188. 
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