10 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
Fact checked

Did you ever catch yourself in a moment when you enter a room and completely forget why you are there at all? Blame it on anxiety.

This psychiatric condition can not only mess with your nerves but also cause trouble with your memory. Stress and anxiety essentially shut off the brain for any sort of business, often leading to frustrating memory lapses. If you have been feeling too anxious and forgetful lately, don’t worry; you are certainly not losing it.

Understanding the relationship between anxiety and memory loss can help you make more sense of the situation and work toward breaking this cycle.

While anxiety can trigger memory loss or contribute to it, it doesn’t always mean your memory will be affected. In other words, anxiety cannot wipe out chunks of memory or make you forget what your childhood was.

The effects are more subtle and related to ongoing activities in the current moment, such as forgetting where you put the keys, mixing dates of an event, or forgetting directions to work. Why? Because anxiety typically affects your short-term and working memory.

  • Short-Term Memory: Consider short-term memory as a blackboard that you use to make notes and wipe clean after some time. This type of memory holds information very briefly and forgets it within seconds. An example of short-term memory includes typing someone’s phone number, which you forget the minute you save it. [1]
  • Working Memory: This type of memory stores information until you process it and use it for cognitive tasks.

The impact of anxiety on working and short-term memory is often referred to as brain fog. This brain fog can make you forgetful as you fumble through day-to-day tasks, wondering how to do them. But why does this happen? Where does this brain fog come from?

High Cortisol

To understand the relationship between anxiety and memory relapses, you must familiarize yourself with stress response. Stress and anxiety are natural responses to any stressful stimulus. It is your body’s way of warning you when something’s not right and helps you prepare a response or reaction. Responding to a threat involves the autonomic nervous system and its two subparts:

  • Sympathetic system: Known to trigger the fight or flight response, this part of the nervous system increases your heart rate and breathing while contracting your muscles. It also increases cortisol and adrenaline levels in the body to make the body more alert to tackle the ongoing threat.
  • Parasympathetic system: Once the threat passes, the parasympathetic system takes over, relaxing the body and helping it return to the baseline.

In someone with anxiety, the fight or flight response may happen without any potential threat, releasing cortisol when it is not required.

While the proper levels of this hormone can boost memory, persistently high amounts of cortisol can impair cognition and memory. What this means is the more you become anxious, the higher your cortisol levels will go and the more memory impairment you will experience. [2]

Poor Focus

Anxiety can often keep you preoccupied, making it difficult to pay attention to what’s happening around you. You may frequently be in your head, refusing to engage appropriately in conversation. Due to this inability to pay attention, your brain may struggle to turn incoming information into memories.

Poor Sleep

Persistent anxiety and worry can make you struggle to sleep at night. Research indicates that up to 70 percent of people with an underlying anxiety disorder struggle with significant sleep disturbances that negatively impact their quality of life and daily functioning.

Lack of sleep can also affect memory in various ways. For instance, it can make you struggle to focus and be much more challenging to learn. Since sleep is crucial for consolidating memories, lacking some restful hours can disturb the long-term process of creating your short-term memory.


An anxious person is easily distracted, making them struggle to remain focused and attentive to anything. When you are not paying proper attention to the information you are getting, the brain may be unable to take it in as a memory. This may make it difficult for them to retain information, causing frequent memory lapses.


Anxiety provokes a state of hyperstimulation where the brain starts prioritizing essential tasks, such as addressing potential threats. With this hyperstimulated brain, you are expected to miss certain things that may appear as memory lapses.

Panic attacks are the most severe form of anxiety and can make you forgetful about what happened before or during an attack. These attacks are characterized by short episodes of heightened fever that come on quickly without warning and trigger the following symptoms: [3]

  • A racing or pounding heart
  • Shortness of breath/ a choking sensation
  • Feeling of doom
  • Shaking, trembling, and sweating
  • Feeling as if you are losing control
  • Blurry vision
  • Tingling and numbness in the body

Sometimes, a panic attack may become so severe that it may make you feel like you are having a heart attack or are actively dying. Preoccupied by these unpleasant thoughts, it becomes easy to lose track of time and think about nothing but getting past this attack.

You may consider recalling it once you are out of a. panic attack. However, understanding what happened or trying to make sense of the events may not always be possible.

If you have been experiencing panic attacks for a while, it is expected to worry about having one in the future. This fear alone makes you anxious and more forgetful.

Many other reasons can lead to memory loss, such as the following:

  • Depression
  • Head injury
  • Ongoing emotional distress or trauma
  • Dementia
  • Brain tumors
  • Chemotherapy
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Regular alcohol or drug use

Even if you have been formally diagnosed with anxiety, there might be other factors contributing to your memory loss. Hence, monitoring these memory lapses in terms of severity, frequency, and progression is crucial.

Occasionally forgetting things, especially in the presence of anxiety and poor sleeping habits, is not usually serious. But consider seeking help from a qualified professional if you regularly face the following issues:

  • Losing things regularly
  • Having trouble completing daily tasks, such as traveling from one place to another or fulfilling work-related responsibilities
  • Forgetting words
  • Finding it challenging to remember scheduled events or appointments
  • Asking the same things or questions repeatedly
  • Forgetting essential safety instructions, such as locking doors when you leave your home or turning off the stove after cooking

In addition to mentioning these symptoms, do not forget to tell your doctor what your loved ones think of these signs. For instance, they may notice you mixing up words or repeating the same stories without realizing it.

Poor memory can itself be quite distressing. So make sure you seek help in time before it provokes your anxiety and perpetuates a vicious cycle.

If you are dealing with anxiety and short term memory loss, the first thing to consider is self-care. Be honest with yourself and discover all the gaps that need filling to get you in the best spot for a better, anxiety-free life.

If you have enough evidence to believe that anxiety is fueling your memory issues, combine anxiety and stress management techniques with a solid self-care regimen for the most noticeable benefits.

Below are some easy day-to-day activities to cope with anxiety and memory issues:

Go for Mindfulness

Mindfulness can help you stay in the current moment and focus on identifying your anxiety triggers. If appropriately used, mindfulness can also help calm an anxious mind, automatically mitigating associated memory losses. [4]

If you are new to mindfulness, many courses and classes are available for beginners, both online and in the community.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques help your brain realize you are in a safe environment with no imminent threat. Meditation, deep breathing, and grounding exercises are some relaxation techniques that can help you be present in the moment and calm your mind and body. Sometimes, singing, deep sighing, or simply being next to someone you trust can make a difference.

Work on Your Sleeping Habits

Anxiety and sleep are closely intertwined and can directly affect your memory. You may notice becoming more anxious and forgetful when you are not sleeping correctly or for adequate hours. [5]

Fix your sleep by improving your overall sleep hygiene. Some ways to do this include the following:

  • Make a bedtime routine and stick to your set wake-up and sleeping times
  • Improve your sleeping environment by making the bed more comfortable, using comfortable pillows, and making the room soundproof
  • Avoid using mobile phones or any other electronic gadgets too close to bedtime

Alter the Way You Think

Start paying attention to your thinking patterns and notice if they are provoking anxiety and memory issues. Consider changing your thoughts to manage overwhelm and worry before they mess with your memory. The more you practice this technique, the easier it will become to manage anxiety.

To identify your thought process during an ongoing anxiety episode, ask yourself:

  • What is this anxiety based on? What is the triggering belief?
  • Is this belief undeniably true?
  • What are the ways this belief is helping or hindering me?
  • Is there something more helpful I can replace it with?

Consider Journalling

Anxiety often comes on automatically, making it difficult for you to realize the thinking patterns triggering it. To make yourself more aware of your mind and identify patterns that trigger anxiety, start journaling every day. Journaling is not only a great way to rid the mind of extra stress but can also help you identify anxiety-provoking patterns and break them.

Work Out More Frequently

Exercise can benefit your physical health and help you manage anxiety and memory loss in various ways. For instance, workouts divert your attention from ongoing stress and worry onto what you are doing. It has also been linked to releasing happy hormones that boost mood while throwing out the stress hormone from the body.

Research also suggests that regular physical activity can improve your memory functioning. So make sure you are exercising as regularly as possible. [6]

Fuel Your Brain

The brain is undoubtedly the most essential part of your body. It keeps on working all day, every day, without any breaks. So make sure you are giving it adequate nutrition to work correctly.

Eat healthily with nutritious foods that give your body all micro- and macro-nutrients. Cut back on alcohol and caffeine as much as possible and maintain adequate hydration status. These little dietary tweaks can play a significant role in managing your anxiety and, by extension, your memory issues.

Give Your Brain Some Exercise

Even though the brain works plenty daily, consider performing focused mental exercises to improve cognition and memory. Playing board games and cards, completing puzzles, or using visualization techniques can enhance cognitive functioning and memory. Alternatively, consider learning a new language or skills or engaging in a sport to improve your memory and brain functions. [7]

The next time you find yourself blank in the middle of an ongoing anxious episode, do not fret. Remember that it is most likely your anxiety that’s playing tricks on you, and it’s nothing serious to worry about. Use these moments as a reminder to pause and relax your mind. There are a bunch of things you can do at the same time to reduce these moments and improve memory functions, such as journaling, exercise, and self-care

Remember that memory loss can also signify a severe underlying condition. So, if you have started encountering it more frequently, do not delay getting help.

[1] Lapointe ML, Blanchette I, Duclos M, Langlois F, Provencher MD, Tremblay S. Attentional bias, distractibility and short-term memory in anxiety. Anxiety, Stress & Coping. 2013 May 1;26(3):293-313.

[2] Souza-Talarico JN, Marin MF, Sindi S, Lupien SJ. Effects of stress hormones on the brain and cognition: Evidence from normal to pathological aging. Dementia & Neuropsychologia. 2011 Jan;5:8-16.

[3] Cackovic C, Nazir S, Marwaha R. Panic disorder.

[4] Hofmann SG, Sawyer AT, Witt AA, Oh D. The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology. 2010 Apr;78(2):169.

[5] Eugene AR, Masiak J. The neuroprotective aspects of sleep. MEDtube science. 2015 Mar;3(1):35.

[6] Lambourne K. The relationship between working memory capacity and physical activity rates in young adults. Journal of sports science & medicine. 2006 Mar;5(1):149.

[7] Padilla LM, Creem-Regehr SH, Hegarty M, Stefanucci JK. Decision making with visualizations: a cognitive framework across disciplines. Cognitive research: principles and implications. 2018 Dec;3:1-25.



The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


a successful and proven concept focusing on underlying causes


0 Before

Send Admission Request

0 Before

Define Treatment Goals

1 week

Assessments & Detox

1-4 week

Psychological & Holistic Therapy

4 week

Family Therapy

5-8 week


12+ week

Refresher Visit

Anxiety Insights

latest news & research on Anxiety
Anxiety and Memory Loss
A Mindful Recall: How are Anxiety and Memory Loss Connected?

While anxiety can trigger memory loss or contribute to it, it doesn’t always mean your memory will be affected

read more
panic attack hangover
Panic Attack Hangover

A panic attack hangover is the state of affairs after a panic attack but before the individual fully recovers from the effects of the episode

read more
Selective Mutism
Selective Mutism

Selective mutism (SM) is a childhood anxiety disorder that prevents a child from speaking within certain contexts and social environments

read more
Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack
Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack

Panic attacks vs. anxiety attacks are being used interchangeably in the light of certain similar symptoms, risk factors, and causes, including rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

read more


British Psychology Society
Institute de terapia neural
pro mesotherapie
Somatic Experience


Woman & Home
National World
American Banker
Marie Claire
La Nacion
Metro UK
General Anzeiger
Live Science
Mallorca Magazin
Apartment Therapy
Express UK
Manager Magazin
Entrepreneur ME
Khaleej Times
Business Leader
The Guardian
Daily Mail
Mallorca Zeitung
Mirror Uk
The Times
The Standard
The Stylist