I recently put out a tweet asking if any other anxiety sufferers noticed poor memory recall. I was looking to understand if there is a link between anxiety and memory formation/loss. I had an overwhelming response to this and it turns out this is a real and serious experience. So many got back to me associating the memory loss to trauma, PTSD, lack of concentration during difficult times and even food. I’ll link my twitter here because the responses I had were so interesting, they’re really worth a read if you’d like to understand other’s experiences.
After hearing there were so many others who had experienced something similar to me, I wanted to understand why. What is happening, physiologically, that is stopping me from being able to access memories or even form them at the time? What is my brain doing? Which brought me to writing this post. I’m a believer that if we can understand something, we can modify it (if we want to). I’m also a believer in not needing to understand everything – balance and all.
Let me briefly explain why/how this all came about. I was at home, reflecting upon life (as I do) and it dawned on me that there was a bunch of situations that I couldn’t really remember. It’s kind of like I just cannot access it! Some kind of weird memory block! My mind is saying a firm “absolutely not” to me. But why? Is it my mind blocking it out to prevent pain or did I just not formulate a memory? I don’t have the answer to that right now, but I do have some information that may be useful for you.
The Physiological response
Let’s start at stress. Stress is a response to a threat and anxiety is the reaction to the stress. During this time our brains secrete cortisol – the stress hormone. Cortisol binds to cells in the brain’s hippocampus, the area that converts new experiences into memory. This binding actually disrupts the memory-forming process. Ultimately, if stress continues, these regions deteriorate, making the impairment permanent. High levels of anxiety reduce both the storage and processing capacity of working memory.
So that’s what’s happening physiologically – good to know I guess. Alongside this, after some further reflection and bouncing ideas off of the supportive lot who helped me out on Twitter, I’m fairly confident I experience some dissociation. Which in turn would explain my inability to recall memories and why I can “zone out” now during times of anxiety. For me personally, I think I may experience depersonalization and dissociative amnesia. I wanted to mention this as I feel my own memory loss and struggles to retrieve memories are a combination – yours may be too if you feel you are experiencing something similar.
Now I know I experience this, I understand why and now I ask, now what? How do I ease it going forward? How do I access those memories if I wanted? Are they even there? Did they form? These are the questions I’m going to let go – not understanding these is my balance. Going forward though, I want to be present with myself – no matter how hard. I’m going to continue to practice my anxiety busting techniques, I wrote a post on ways to manage anxiety so I will link that here for you, and I will continue on this journey of self-exploration. It’s just good to know I’m so far from alone in this experience, I’m not crazy and it will be okay. There’s no other option but to be.
I’d love to know if you have experienced something similar and how you manage it! It’s such a new discovery for me and I’m trying to soak in as much information as I can.