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Can Anxiety Cause Memory Problems?


Have you ever had a moment when your memory isn’t quite there, or that you can’t quite function as you normally would, or you just feel a little bit slow or sluggish – that’s what we call brain fog and it happens to all of us. This can be a bit disconcerting and worrying, but it is largely harmless. Although it can be a symptom of many conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, it has been linked to those who suffer with anxiety. If you’re concerned about your memory, it’s always best to contact your doctor. 


As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze. 


Why Does Anxiety Cause Memory Problems?

There’s a couple of reasons as to why anxiety might cause memory problems, the first being that when we’re in fight, flight or freeze mode our caveman brain takes over, shutting down the modern, rational part of our brain. This means that making rational decisions often takes longer than usual, creating a slow, sluggish feeling. During this time, the hippocampus is also suppressed. This is the part of the brain responsible for memory so we can often feel forgetful.


Another reason that anxiety might cause brain fog is that when we’re in this survival mode our body becomes hypersensitive and hyperstimulated. This speeds up the survival processes such as increased heart rate, increased breathing, and muscle tension, using up a lot of our energy reserves. This ultimately ends with us being fatigued with low blood sugar, which can lead to further memory problems. Think about when you’re tired and hungry – you don’t end up thinking straight or recalling things that you should be able to.


How Can I Stop This Symptom?

As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our rational processes and hippocampus to kick back in and resolve those memory problems. 


Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.