Mental-Cognitive Symptoms

Anxiety Can Cause Memory Problems

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Anxiety Can Cause Memory Problems

Anxiety is a condition that involves a great deal of "overthinking." Many people with anxiety find that they're trapped inside of their own head, focusing on bad memories and having a hard time living life to the fullest.

So it may be a bit of a surprise to learn that anxiety can cause memory problems. But memory problems are actually fairly common and can affect many of those that suffer from every type of anxiety.

Memory Loss From Anxiety or Anxiety From Memory Loss

Anxiety is the type of condition that can also make you worried about issues that are not actually threatening. People forget things every day, but those with anxiety have a tendency to believe that their memory loss is worse than the rest of the population.

How Anxiety Can Cause Memory Loss

Anxiety can definitely cause memory loss. Here are three reasons that anxiety can cause memory loss:

  • Stress Hormones The stress hormone cortisol is often elevated in patients who have General Anxiety Disorder. Cortisol elevation can help create a memory in a stressful situation, but it makes it more difficult for a person to recall an existing memory. It is not believed that these memory problems are permanent or represent any type of loss of brain function. When the stress diminishes, your normal ability to recall memories will return.
  • Distracted Thinking People with anxiety are also prone to having incredibly active minds with lots of thoughts running through their mind. When your mind is this active, you are not focused on the new things you're trying to remember, which distracts you from forming a memory. Distracting thinking also blocks your ability to become aware of memories when they appear in your stream of consciousness. It is like clouds blocking your ability to see the sun.
  • Sleep Loss, etc. - Anxiety also affects secondary issues which may affect memory. For example, anxiety can make it harder to sleep, and sleep deprivation has a known effect on memory and recall.

It is important, though, not to jump to the conclusion that you are forgetting things because of anxiety, It is normal to forget things from time to time. However, if you have a persistent problem with memory loss, you should see a doctor to find out if there is a physical cause for your memory loss that can be successfully treated.

What Can You Do to Improve Memory?

Improving your memory starts by simply integrating more strategies to ensure that your brain is kept active. For example:

  • Reduce Your Anxiety Level The most important thing that you can do to improve memory deficits caused by anxiety is to reduce your anxiety. You can do this by going into therapy — Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of anxiety disorders. You can also get mindfulness training or learn how to meditate.
  • Start a Daily Journal Keep a daily journal of the things you did during the day and the things you want to remember. Be as specific as possible, and then re-read that journal often to keep those memories alive. You'll start to train your brain to remember these things better, and over time your memory should improve overall.
  • Exercise Innumerable studies have established that physical exercise will improves your cognitive abilities — including memory. Exercise can also relieve anxiety, so you get both benefits when you go jogging more.
  • Learn Mnemonics There are many different tools that improve memory. Simply keeping your memory active is one step. Another is to work on mental strategies that are effective at creating memories faster and with easier recall.
  • Sleep Many sleep researchers believe that sleep is actually when most memo are consolidated and become memories. During sleep, your brain processes various thoughts and turns them into long-term memories. Make sure you're sleeping often to keep your memories alive.

Of course, all of this means nothing if you continue to suffer from anxiety since the memory problems of anxiety will still affect you. That's why it's so important that you learn to stop your anxiety - not just manage it - if you want to really improve your memory.

Questions? Comments?

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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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