Could My Bad Memory Be Caused By Anxiety?

Anxiety and Memory Loss

Have trouble with forgetfulness? You may assume it’s due to age-related memory problems, a sign of dementia, or the harbinger of Alzheimer’s disease. But in some cases, a tendency to blank out on names, lose your keys, or space out why you walked into a room may be a consequence of anxiety.

You may think you know the most common symptoms of anxiety, such as anxiousness, nervousness, restlessness, panic, rapid heart rate or breathing rate, upset stomach, muscle tension, sweating, trembling, chest pain, trouble sleeping, and dizziness. What you may not realize is that this common mental health condition may also contribute to memory problems and difficulty concentrating. For example:

  • You may have trouble remembering important information at your job or at school, causing you to miss deadlines, do work incorrectly, or study the wrong things for exams.
  • You might forget about events like anniversaries, dinners, or birthdays, which leads to marital conflict or other relationship troubles.
  • You could fail to take your medications or forget about doctor’s appointments, which can contribute to health issues.

Struggling at work or school, in relationships, or with your personal well-being fuels anxiety and stress. In essence, it creates a cycle of increasing anxiousness and memory problems. If you’re noticing forgetfulness, it’s worth investigating all possible causes, including anxiety disorders.

If you’re struggling with forgetfulness, it’s worth investigating all possible causes, including anxiety disorders. Click To Tweet

ANXIETY AND ELEVATED CORTISOL LEVELS

Feeling anxious, panicky, or stressed triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response and raises cortisol levels. When anxiety and stress are a constant companion, cortisol levels remain elevated. Too much cortisol is associated with shrinkage in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is heavily involved in memory formation. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands, a pair of triangle-shaped glands that sit atop your kidneys.

Whenever you sense a threat, whether it is physical or emotional and whether it is real or perceived, the adrenals start pumping out cortisol. In our society, you’re likely faced with psychological stress and anxiety on an everyday basis, and your body gets stuck in alarm mode, continually releasing too much cortisol.

When cortisol is chronically elevated, the brain suffers. It is associated with a drop in the release of serotonin, a calming neurochemical, which leads to increased anxiety, nervousness, or depression. In addition, chronic exposure to elevated levels of stress hormones has also been shown to have a negative impact on the brain’s memory centers.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN ANXIETY AND MEMORY LOSS

Anxiety and chronic stress are strongly linked to memory problems and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to findings in Neurology and BMJ Open from a 38-year longitudinal study. Brain imaging research shows that anxiety involves many of the same brain circuits that are seen in Alzheimer’s disease. For example, a review in Learning & Memory concludes that chronic stress shrinks volume in the hippocampus, a brain region that is seriously impacted in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Another study found that anxiety disorders are a strong indicator of future cognitive decline.

How does anxiety steal your memory? Stress and anxiety fire up the brain and harness mental resources that would typically be used for memory encoding. Effectively, the brain is busy coping with anxious thoughts and worries rather than processing external inputs. For example, research from the University of California, Irvine, suggests that brief bouts of intense stress can disrupt neuronal communication in the hippocampus.

CALM ANXIETY TO PRESERVE MEMORY

Because anxiety and chronic stress can trigger memory problems, it is important to find ways to soothe these issues. You may think that means reaching for anti-anxiety pills, such as benzodiazepines, but that can be counterproductive. A meta-analysis of 10 studies found that prolonged use of benzodiazepines significantly raises the chances of developing dementia. In addition, the SPECT scans of people using these prescription drugs reveal lowered blood flow throughout the brain. And low blood flow is the #1 brain imaging predictor of Alzheimer’s disease. To protect your memory, use natural alternatives to anti-anxiety pills to soothe anxiousness.

Healthy ways to halt anxiety include:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing
  • Meditation or prayer
  • Relaxing exercises, such as yoga or tai chi
  • Taking nutritional supplements, such as GABA, l-theanine, and magnesium
  • Eliminating automatic negative thoughts (ANTs)

If these strategies effectively soothe anxiety but don’t ameliorate your memory, it’s time to get screened for memory problems to rule out other potential causes. Be aware that standard medical evaluations for memory loss may be too brief and incomplete. A comprehensive memory screening should include a complete personal history, an analysis of your lifestyle habits, lab work, and functional brain SPECT imaging. With a complete view of your health, history, and brain, you will be better equipped to identify and address the root causes of any memory loss.

Memory problems, anxiety, chronic stress, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

3 Comments »

  1. Thank you

    Comment by David J — August 1, 2022 @ 6:32 AM

  2. One of my closest friends, who has been anxious all her life about everything, has Alzheimer's. I tried to get her to see a therapist for DEEP therapy, with no success. I have no idea if there's a connection or not, but I wonder.

    Comment by Virginia — August 1, 2022 @ 9:45 AM

  3. This makes so much sense. I know when I am anxious I lose or misplace things that are important for projects , clients or optimal daily functioning. I then get more anxious because I can’t find my keys and I’m now late. Vicious cycle!!
    My meditation practice is my best daily investment for sanity.

    Comment by Lori Pinello — August 3, 2022 @ 7:39 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us