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While some people, like Rachel, experience a general fogginess because of their anxiety, others can generally remember certain moments of the past but might have trouble recalling the specifics. “What I’ll usually forget is the most important detail of the memory, like the names of pivotal people involved or points of logic that give the story credibility,” says Patrice, 22. “My memory of the feelings I have are vivid even if recovering the origin is tricky.”
Anxiety-induced memory loss can often be a dangerous cycle. Being anxious can cause people to have issues remembering things — whether it be a specific event from the past or a seemingly-minute detail, like where you parked your car — and in turn, this forgetfulness can often cause more anxiety. However, these memories are usually not lost for good, and they can often be restored with the correct treatment.
Can these memories be recovered?
Someone with generalized anxiety disorder may worry that their memories are gone for good. However, that’s not necessarily the case, and it’s often true that if the anxiety is treated, the memories may resurface.
“At times, the negative memory might not even be forgotten completely,” Lantigua Jr. confirms. “As a way of coping, years later the negative memory might be remembered as less damaging and not as severe in a way to make peace with something in one’s life that cannot be changed.”
These memories can be retrieved in a number of ways. For some, memories lost due to anxiety will resurface over time once the anxiety around that specific event or time period has decreased. For others, however, this process is not as simple. Samantha, 21, was diagnosed with generalized anxiety six years ago and has had issues with her memory ever since. Several years ago, after experiencing a personal trauma, she became too anxious to remember anything about her day-to-day life, including who she spoke to, when she woke up, or whether she had eaten. Through therapy, however, Samantha is slowly beginning to recover her memories.
“Through therapy — and more specifically, exposure work — I have slowly begun the process of recovering emotions that I felt during the time of the trauma as well as ones that have appeared in the wake of the trauma,” she says. “While it is painful, it is also cathartic to finally feel and recover not only my emotions, but the fragmented pieces of who I was before the trauma.”
When (and how) should someone seek help for lost memories?
While memory loss is a rather common coping mechanism for events from one’s past that were traumatic, it can also be worrying, inconvenient, and hard on the psyche. For this reason, many anxious people turn to therapy to recover lost memories and to treat the root of the problem — the anxiety itself.
“I recommend that people seek professional help when they notice recurring high levels of anxiety,” Benamo tells Allure. “Seeking help then can act as a preventive measure and tool. If not at this point, then seek help when you notice losing memories.”
For many chronically anxious people, speaking with a therapist or licensed mental health professional is not only a productive way to regain lost memories, but an important tool to heal from past trauma and treat the anxiety that they face on a daily basis.
“Therapy has been an incredibly helpful resource for me in my recovery,” says Samantha. “I deeply encourage anyone who has experienced anxiety, trauma, or adversity of any kind to seek out the help they need.”
If you are experiencing memory loss due to acute anxiety, there are resources available to you. Reaching out to a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders can be an excellent way to learn how to best treat your anxiety. They can help you talk through your anxiety and memory loss, develop coping skills so that you know how to deal with these issues in the future, and in some cases even prescribe you medication so that stress does not impact you as greatly on a day to day basis. While anxiety-induced memory loss can be scary, you shouldn’t have to deal with it alone.