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Can Anxiety and Depression Cause Memory Loss?

Can Anxiety and Depression Cause Memory Loss

Anxiety and Depression affect the way you feel, but they can also change the way you think. 

Psychiatrists around the world agree that their patients go through occasional unpleasant experiences of forgetting things. They have trouble finding keys to remembering fine details or events, which makes it difficult for them to function through the day. Conditions such as anxiety and depression make it harder to concentrate and keep new information in mind. It is important to know what exactly are the causes and symptoms before actions can be taken to improve memory and concentration.

Wondering how depression affects memory? What’s going on with memory and anxiety? Let’s have a look at the complete picture.

Depression and Memory Loss

If you have to feel sad all the time regardless of the situation you are in, lost interest in doing activities you once enjoyed, and have little energy to carry on with the day, then you should consider going to a therapist.

Depression and Memory Loss

Common Signs of Depression

These are some common signs of depression and might be linked to confusion and memory lapses. A person suffering from depression often feels restless, worthless, and guilty. You might lose appetite and weight and find it difficult to focus on various tasks that you once did with perfection due to a foggy brain. Headaches, stomachaches, and back pain are also included in symptoms of depression.

How Does Depression Affect Memory?

An article provides sufficient evidence regarding depression causing brain function to worsen over time.  According to research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, depression can cause dementia, especially if it remains untreated. 

The area dealing with our memory inside the brain is the hippocampus. It is found smaller in size in people suffering from depression. In a study conducted in 2018, depressed people struggle more in remembering specific events in life. What’s more interesting is the relationship between depression and short-term memory loss. It has no connection with long-term memory or procedural memory involving motor skills.

Although, a study conducted in 2019 shows that people suffering from depression in their twenties had poor immediate memory after reaching memory but this doesn’t prove a connection between depression and memory loss in elderly. Don’t forget other factors here. Instead, according to some experts, cognitive impairments in people suffering from depression might be a warning sign of dementia. 

Affect of Depression on Our Brain

Depression decreases the volume of gray matter in the human brain. A paper published in 2013 highlights detailed changes in the brain from depression. This affects focus, behavior and triggers bad memories. Depressed people find it difficult to monitor their behavior. They often remember the negative traits of people more. 

Depression, Antidepressants, and Memory

Depression and memory loss goes a long way to antidepressants. If you think that medications for depression affect memory, then the answer is yes. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCA) affect memory retention in some people. On the other hand, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) slows down memory function within two months of initial treatment.

Anxiety and Memory Loss

If you have a persistent feeling of fear about normal things that you can’t change and control, or you usually find yourself stuck in a cycle of nervousness, unable to skip the thoughts of dreaded potential outcomes, then you might have anxiety. Anxiety is energy-consuming. It drains you mentally as well as emotionally. You start living in a state of constant stress and hypervigilance, which in turn affects your memory and thinking capacity. 

Anxiety and Memory Loss

Common Signs of Anxiety

Anxiety doesn’t work like depression as you don't forget the key events in your life, but it generally affects working memory. You can retain instructions, directions, conversation, or your exam material. You are unable to remember and focus on minor details due to anxiety.

The constant struggle that your mind does to keep it out of stress leads to forgetting little things and significant events, resulting in conflicts and tension. You will also feel trouble carrying out daily essential tasks like cooking or driving as you might forget to keep turn the gas off or the fear of missing the right turn won’t let you focus on other road details. 

How Exactly Does Anxiety Takes a Toll on Your Memory?

 Anxiety is a stumbling block. If you already suffer from anxiety, then you already have an idea about the trouble it can cause. Your worries about things that you have no control of can occupy your thoughts to the point where you start living with them. You can’t escape them even if you try.

Worries and anxieties will eventually become a part of your daily routine where you will be constantly worried about reaching on time, pairing the right jeans with a top, or adding the right amount of spice to your dinner. Whatever you do, anxious thoughts are there for you to be managed at the same time. It makes it difficult to pay full attention to what you want to focus on. 

As you continue to focus on the reasons behind your worries, your brain will start shifting its focus towards the potential threats in normal life situation to keep you safe. You might won’t leave the kitchen while boiling the milk just because you feat that it will spill if you don’t take it off the stove on the right time.

This makes it impossible for the brain to process additional information, and it begins to fade. Once you realize that you have been missing some important things, you might wonder if something serious is going on. This might increase your worries and make the situation even worse.

On the other hand, forgetting small things is a common sign of aging. It’s completely normal and can happen to anyone, especially to people under stress. But if you are suffering from anxiety, then normal forgetfulness can trigger the cycle of anxious thoughts.

Many people respond to traumatic memories by making themselves numb to them and not recalling them at all. If such memories exhaust your mind to the point where you start having trouble carrying out normal daily tasks then you can try blocking or repressing them to handle the stress. You may not completely forget a particular event, but refusing to think about it can blur the details and help it disappear from your memory for the time being but again in the end it will reappear again.

Suppression may seem beneficial, but it won't help you fix the problem. It will reappear and make you anxious even more, as this time you are even more worried about not able to skip the thoughts too. You will start worrying about these unpleasant feelings, lose track of time, and would be unable to think about anything.

Unaddressed anxiety can worsen over time and have an even greater effect on memory and concentration. Anxiety makes it difficult to sleep. If the vicious cycle of anxious thoughts doesn’t keep you up, then you can wake up or have disturbing dreams.

After poor sleep and staying awake through most of the nights, you start feel dizzy, upset, and losing your concentration, although you might not experience serious health consequences at this point. But if this continues, then consequences might be severe. Regular sleep is vital for overall brain function. In the end, sleep deprivation will lead to the ultimate memory loss cycle.

Memory Loss From Stress

The body has a weapon to fight everything that intrudes its normal function, even for stress. You know this weapon as a stress hormone. Cortisol gets this name because it helps your body in a fight-flight mode while dealing with stress. The hormone, as a fighter, has several important functions around the body. Its right amount can even interrupt the memories process. This could help explain why mild anxiety can actually help improve memory initially. However, anything in a large amount is bad so is this hormone. 

Memory Loss From Stress

Too much cortisol can have the opposite effect on your brain and body function. The body of people with chronic anxiety tends to secrete higher cortisol levels due to constant anxiety and extreme concerns about potential threats. The constant stress can even make your body and brain freeze in a moment as a fight response, to get it ready to respond to danger.

This type of anxiety leads to severe stress, which in turn leads to panic attacks. So, what are panic attacks? They are a severe form of anxiety representing as short episodes of extreme fear. You might experience them quickly, often without warning. The symptoms caused during the attack can be overwhelming and frightening. You will find it difficult to breathe or even choking, your heartbeat will rise, you will sweat and experience tremor, and you may also become numb. A tingling sensation might take over you, and you might feel misfortunate or out of control. Some people also feel like they are experiencing a heart attack.

Some people who have panic attacks have a hard time remembering what happened just before or during the attack. You may be able to recall when did it happen, but you may not remember exactly how you handled it.

Panic-related memory loss can occur for the same reasons that general anxiety leads to memory loss. If you have had panic attacks in the past, you may also have to worry about experiencing it once again, especially if you are in a situation that triggers your fear or apprehension. 

Other Causes Related to Memory Loss

Normal age-related memory is the most common cause of memory loss with time. Good news? It’s quite manageable. Brain tumors and infections can cause dementia-like symptoms. Vitamin B-12 deficiency is important for the nourishment of nerve cells and red blood cells and can result in memory problems. 

Alzheimer's disease causes progressive and irreversible brain damage and memory loss. It is the most common form of dementia. Disease damaging brain or nerves such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis. A study carried out in 2013 proved that depression increases the risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

Hypothyroidism affects brain health by slowing metabolism, which leads to memory problems. Minor head injuries can cause mild memory problems, even if you haven't lost consciousness. Forgetfulness is also a potential side effect of some medications. Drinking or tobacco can impair your mental abilities. 

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) changes the chemistry of the brain, causing a brief attack, which can result in symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses. After ECT treatment, people can experience confusion and short-term memory loss.

How to Cope With Memory Loss?

Memory loss due to depression is usually treated with regular counseling or antidepressant therapy. An active lifestyle and community involvement can also improve your mood, treat depression and bring you towards a healthy life. If things are getting out of hand, then you can also consider help from your family doctor. Do consider joining a support group as well.

Techniques to Prevent Memory Loss

There are also drugs that can improve memory loss in people with Alzheimer's disease or other neurological disorders.

Things You Can Do

  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Set reminders or alarm for upcoming events
  • Use digital calendars for automatic notifications
  • If possible, work in a quiet environment where you can focus on your thing without getting distracted
  • Consume a supplement that is rich in l-theanine and Ashwagandha since they can help reduce stress and anxiety

What You Must Know

There are a lot of factors influencing memory loss apart from those described above. This including genetics, age, and medical conditions affecting your brain and body health. Some of them are manageable such as diet and lifestyle.

Although memory loss is not a completely preventable disease, people may be able to take steps to slow it down and protect the brain from cognitive impairment with their progressing age.