There are so many things that can cause you to feel stress. You might be anxious about a job interview. Then again, you might be in the midst of a global pandemic. To your brain, it’s all “stress.” That’s the catch. Regardless of the source (real or imagined), your brain will initiate the stress response.
Such communication between your brain’s amygdala and hypothalamus is invisible to you. But you will feel the results. Changes in heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure, for example. One change will not be immediately obvious to you. This is the impact of anxiety on your working memory.
How Anxiety Disorders Happen
Note the phrase “real or imagined” above. The threat does not have to be real. If it is real, it does not have to be sustained. What matters to your brain is whether or not it thinks you are at risk. If so, it releases a stress hormone called cortisol. If you stay in this state of high alert despite the lack of danger, it will lead you into an anxiety disorder. Almost one-third of American adults will deal with this situation in their lives. This reality can wreak havoc on cognitive functions like memory.
Fear and Forgetfulness
The chain of events is well-known. Anxiety affects the nervous system. Your nervous system is a major player in memory and other executive functions. This impacts both your long-term memory and your working memory. Working memory is what you need to deal with problems in the here and now. Compromised working memory will manifest in signs like:
- Being mistake-prone
- Inability to complete tasks
- Loss of focus and concentration
- Decreased capacity for multitasking
- Frequently losing things
- Repeating yourself in conversations
- Forgetting basic information like dates or phone numbers
The Role of Cortisol
Chronic stress and anxiety are linked to memory loss. Cortisol is linked to chronic stress and anxiety. High levels of cortisol have been found to negatively impact your ability to perform basic tasks related to:
- Visual perception
Excess cortisol also impacts our ability to regulate emotions. We lose some of our cognitive skills when it comes to rational thinking. This helps explain why people hoarded products like toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic.
Self-Help Steps to Decrease Anxiety and Increase Memory
Education (official or self-guided) helps create a “reserve” of cognitive abilities. This may come in handy when stress happens. You can call on this reserve to balance out the anxiety-induced mental pressure.
It’s a great distraction, makes you feel euphoric, and helps immensely with your physical health. More importantly, exercise also increases the production of new brain cells. This process, called neurogenesis, specifically helps areas related to memory, e.g. hypothalamus.
Humans are social creatures. Being around friends and family is an excellent stress buster. Your mood will improve and, as it does, you’ll find that your executive functioning also improves.
Some clichés exist for good reason. For example, we always hear how helping others can help us, too. In this case, there is direct cause and effect. Your brain has a built-in reward system. Doing good deeds activates this system and thus, lifts your spirits. In this state, anxiety is less imposing.
Anxiety Disorders Require Professional Help
Besides the very crucial self-help steps, your anxiety is best treated by a skilled therapist. Working together, you’ll uncover underlying causes and reveal self-sabotaging patterns. As you tackle your anxiety, the factors causing memory issues will lessen.
To get yourself on these twin tracks of healing, please read more about anxiety therapy and reach out today. Let’s connect for a confidential consultation and get moving toward recovery together.