Long term anxiety causes memory loss. Sources: https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/signs/memory-loss and https://now.uiowa.edu/2014/06/stress-hormone-linked-short-term-memory-loss-we-age

Are there theories about the biological purpose of this connection? Is there a benefit for humans to lose memory access when under elongated periods of stress?

  • $\begingroup$ It's generally not necessary that every trait you observe is adaptive. At Biology.SE we often close questions asking about adaptiveness of seemingly maladaptive traits by linking them as a duplicate of this one: biology.stackexchange.com/questions/35532/… $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 1, 2021 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting link, yet it assumes a trait to be detrimental of beneficial. Here the question is whether it actually is detrimental. $\endgroup$ Mar 1, 2021 at 23:23

1 Answer 1


Disclaimer : this answer isn't backed by any source, aside from personal experience.

Edit : found a source https://health-clevelandclinic-org.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-to-your-body-during-the-fight-or-flight-response/amp/?amp_js_v=a6&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQHKAFQArABIA%3D%3D#aoh=16167791861704&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=Source%C2%A0%3A%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fhealth.clevelandclinic.org%2Fwhat-happens-to-your-body-during-the-fight-or-flight-response%2F

My psychiatrist explained to me that people with anxiety are often in "survival mode". Not only when they are having a panick attack, but most of the time, because of the high stress levels. Imagine being constantly in danger. Thats' how we feel.

When in danger, our bodies prioritize all other important organs (heart, lungs...), and our cognitive capacities become impaired. When in danger, the last thing our body wants to do is to remember what's happening. All it wants to do is to flee that situation, or to fight the danger.

In addition, anxiety leads to exhaustion, which also impairs our cognitive capacities.

Again, I don't know if my psychiatrist made this up or if it's scientifically proven, but I thought it was an interesting insight.

I also have a little theory about it. I know it sounds stupid, but from my personal experience, a lot of events can be traumatic for someone with anxiety. An event (or even a simple thought) that is stressful for a normal person can completely destroy me.

I had a tendency as a child to block those memories so I won't remember them and trigger a panick attack. I remember whispering to myself "forget it" 3 times and move on with something else. It came to the point that I didn't even force myself to forget. I forgot the thing right after it happened.

The point is that we probably don't remember things because we trained ourselves to forget. But that's just my theory.

Feel free to respond and tell me what you think. And if you have some sources to back up or refute what I just wrote, please share them :)

Edit : found an article on training memory suppression https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-forget-something#how-to-forget

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    $\begingroup$ "When in danger, the last thing our body wants to do is to remember what's happening." - I would think it's usually the opposite, as remembering the dangerous situation is advantageous for avoiding it later. It's how children learn not to touch a hot stove, and why people find foods they ate just before a bout of vomiting to be unappetizing. For short-term stress, adrenaline can actually improve cognitive function and long-term memory. $\endgroup$ Mar 26, 2021 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ Of course. What I meant is we'll only remember what our bodies think is useful. Someone with social anxiety trying to learn some math formulas in a loaded classroom with have a hard time learning anything. But they will remember for sure how bad it feels being in a crowded environment. And yes, I agree, short term stress can be extremely useful during a test, a public speaking... But long term high stress levels can do the complete opposite. $\endgroup$
    – Doliprane
    Mar 26, 2021 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ There are some valid points you made in your answer. However, I took a sharp intake of breath when reading parts of your last link. Especially when reading about the use of propranolol for PTSD symptom prevention. Care will be needed with this idea, as there are ethical considerations required - as pointed out in my answer to psychology.stackexchange.com/questions/16781/… $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2021 at 9:06

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