In a word, yes.
But anxiety can also increase your memory in certain situations.
Because anxiety can both help and hinder memory, I’m going to help you identify your specific triggers and symptoms on this page.
If you’re struggling with anxiety-induced memory loss, you’re probably looking for information on how to identify your specific memory issues around anxiety.
Rest assured, you’re in the right place.
See, although I’m a memory expert now, I suffered anxiety for years before finding the best solutions.
Before I had the fixes I’m about to share with you, anxiety negatively influenced my ability to remember a wide variety of things.
Give this page a thorough read and I’m confident you’ll find yourself enjoying much better memory. And benefitting from reduced stress and anxiety as a result.
Can Anxiety Really Cause Memory Loss?
Yes…And Here’s How
Anxiety definitely interferes with memory.
In many cases, this happens because it’s very difficult to pay attention to incoming information when you’re under duress.
As one study found, anxiety negatively affects what scientists call attentional control.
When I was a teenager and had anxiety attacks, I had to leave the classroom altogether. That’s because I had no control over my attention. The anxiety attacks forced me to pay attention only to the pressure on my chest that made me feel like I could not breathe.
Later, I had a major anxiety attack while delivering a lecture at the University of Saarland. In this case, it wasn’t that I couldn’t remember incoming information during a class.
I wasn’t able to focus on my delivery because lack of attentional control caused me to focus on my physical distress.
These are highly specific states of memory loss.
And the weird thing is that, although they impede learning and memory in the moment, the episodes themselves are highly memorable to me. That’s because stress can help form memories in certain circumstances.
As Sallie Baxendale points out in Coping With Memory Problems, stress can also lead to the formation of what are called flashbulb memories. Often the stress of shock is involved, such as when someone famous like John F. Kennedy of Princess Diana passes away.
The point is that anxiety and memory loss cut both ways depending on the nature of the stimulus.
How to Identify the Trigger Behind Your Memory Loss
Here’s where things can get tricky.
If you’re in an anxious state, it can be hard to remember the last five or ten minutes to figure out what might have triggered the episode.
But here are some powerful steps you can take, all based on my own path to reliable solutions.
One: Seeing a Doctor is Never Silly
When I found myself in a lecture hall going completely blank as my heart pounded in front of nearly one hundred students, I stopped the lecture and went straight to a clinic.
As Richard Shames points out in Thyroid Mind Power, there are many hormone issues that could be causing the anxiety and memory loss.
Plus, even if you’re eating foods that improve memory, you have a 72 hour digestion cycle.
This means that you could mistakenly think that too much coffee earlier in the morning is the cause, when in fact, it’s something you ate two days ago that is suddenly causing an issue.
For more, check out the science on the stress-digestion connection.
Two: Journal to Find Your Triggers
Few of us spend enough time in reflective thinking about our lives.
But in just five minutes a day of journaling for self development purposes, you can rapidly spot triggers.
Normally, I suggest journaling in a print notebook, but this study found that stress-reduction occurred even for those journaling online.
You can also seek out Writing to Heal, which includes exercises you can follow. They’re scientifically verified processes that help your body produce chemicals that restore you physically. According to Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, writing can also reduce stress by calming the amygdala.
Three: Plan the Best Possible Interventions
Since each person is different, you’ll need to combine your doctor’s advice with your own findings through journaling.
Over the years of food journaling I discussed in The Victorious Mind, I’ve worked out a variety of diets that help me avoid anxiety issues.
I’ve also learned how to avoid situations that spike my stress levels. It’s not always possible because no one has a crystal ball. But being able to reduce them is very helpful.
That way, if I have an anxiety attack, I’m able to finish the lecture I’m giving without having to abandon it. Knowing what’s happening and having insight into why you’re experiencing mental blocks from stress is tremendously reassuring.
The key is to make sure you combine medical support and personal insight through journaling.
5 Common Symptoms of Anxiety-Induced Memory Loss
Now, I’ve mentioned the feeling of your chest tightening and not being able to focus due to attentional control.
But what are some of the other symptoms of anxiety-induced memory loss?
Let’s have a look.
Cognition means the ability to think and arrive at conclusions. Scientists have found that stress and anxiety can impede this ability greatly.
One of the major memory problems people with stress and anxiety face is that they don’t notice things in the first place.
For example, your visual memory will be impeded if your attentional control causes you to miss visible information.
Losing Track of Important Items
People with anxiety and stress often misplace things.
The good news is that there are ways to stop losing the important objects you need in daily life. You can explore simple solutions like keeping them in the same place intentionally. Or you can try techniques like the Memory Palace.
Forgetting What People Tell You
Conversations are packed with so much important information.
It’s especially sad that people struggling the most often forget what their doctors tell them.
However, there are ways to remember more from conversations you can explore.
Recalling and Following Directions
One of the saddest things that happens to people is getting lost.
As Christopher Kemp shows in his book, Dark and Magical Places, not keeping track of directions costs societies around the world in many ways. We lose in terms of productivity, family commitments and personal fulfilment.
As usual, there are solutions. It’s just a matter of getting started with memory techniques that can help.
4 Coping Mechanisms for Generalized Anxiety and Memory Loss
In addition to seeing a doctor, monitoring your symptoms through journaling and working on your diet, here are some additional things you can do.
One: Optimize Your Sleep
Lack of sleep causes increased anxiety because it throws off the levels of important chemicals in your body.
You can also learn more about sleep and memory specifically. There are many solutions if your life needs attention in this area.
Two: Learn New Things
Although taking on new learning tasks is not an alternative to getting medical attention, once you have a treatment plan, it certainly can be.
Three: Practice Neurobics
Neurobics are activities that actively challenge your brain. As they do, they stimulate neurogenesis that can help resolve certain stress issues.
Here’s a simple activity:
With your left hand try to draw a circle in the air while trying to draw a square in the right hand.
For more challenge, try to draw a square with the left hand and a triangle with the right hand.
Four: Memory Training
Using mnemonics has certainly helped me in this regard as well. Nic Castle was courageous enough to share his story on my podcast as well. He was a police officer who suffered PTSD with anxiety and memory blackouts, but these were reduced once he got into memory training.
Exercising your memory is not a magic bullet, but once you’ve seen a doctor and worked on your overall health, it’s a great supplement to those primary efforts.
This point is very important because coping mechanisms are just that: strategies that help you cope. That’s why this next section is so important, even if it’s also repetitive.
The Best Advice for Anxiety and Memory Loss
The Internet is packed with all kinds of advice. And it’s tempting to avoid proper medical treatment.
But it’s absolutely a must to seek it because we can’t guess at our blood levels. So many people mistake their memory loss symptoms with stress and anxiety when in fact something quite different is going on.
It could be a quick fix, one that lets you get back on track with great memory faster than you might think.
Plus, a doctor can help you think through whether you have anxiety and short-term memory loss or long term memory issues. It’s astonishing how many people think they have short term memory issues when they’re actually long term memory problems, or vice versa.
And once your doctor gives you the green light, consider taking my FREE Memory Improvement course:
It will help ensure that you have a solid path towards improving your memory.
And that’s important because it could be simply having poor memory that is causing your anxiety in the first place.
I know that it used to bother me before I took my first memory improvement course and started to see results.
So what do you say?
Are you feeling enlightened on the issues that underly memory loss induced by anxiety?
Please take good care around this issue and please keep me posted on your progress with this critical issue.