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How does depression and anxiety effect memory?

Posted Nov 16 2008 7:20am

When my depression and anxiety increased a few years ago I noticed that at times I had problems recalling things. Peoples names, birthdays, things I done a week ago or even a day ago all became difficult to remember and I put this down to my medication and my state of mental health. Now that I am feeling much better I have begun to realise that the medication had effected my memory but not the biggest effect was indeed my mental state but not in the way that I had imagined.

For as long as I can remember I had thought that I had a very good memory. Although at times I did remember things incorrectly I found that the majority of times my memory was quite accurate and I was able to use this in my work and personal life to great success. But as my depression worsened I found my memory also got worse and I begun to become aware of how often I recalled things incorrectly. Eventually I found my mind going blank all the time and the harder I dug for the memory the less I could recall. This led to me becoming quieter and more withdrawn and gradually eroded my confidence in a lot of situations.

I tried various things to improve my memory ranging from memory games, try to learn memory techniques and even taking tablets but I was never sure that any of them made any improvement. As my depression and anxiety have improved I have come to realise that my memory was never a problem. I believe that I remember the same now as I ever did before but the difference is in my confidence in my memory. Am I talking about the same thing as a witness of an incident who is sure of what they saw compared to a witness who has some doubts in their mind? I am not sure, all I can say it that it seems more subtle than that.

What if my memory capacity at first actually remained constant and when my apparent memory loss was due to an increase in questioning and doubts? If I remembered something incorrectly then the effect when I was healthier might have been minimal and I might not have given it a second thought but with a reduction in confidence the effect becomes exaggerated and can spiral out of control. In my mind each memory became more imperfect and each failure reinforced the loss of confidence to the extent that eventually even the smallest inaccuracy meant that my memory had failed. By this time I think my actual capacity for memory decreased because of the lack of practice. It seemed pointless trying to remember anything because I couldn't trust the memory anymore.

As my depression and anxiety improved I began to gain in confidence and I know the truth is that my memory was never fantastic anyway it's just that incorrectly remembering something was never a big deal because I always felt that on the whole I could trust my memory. This would explain why memory games, techniques and tablets never worked for me because even if they had worked I would not have accepted any improvement because remembering 9 things out of 10 is the same as remembering 3 out of 10 - it just means failure.

I do not know if there is any truth in my thinking and I can imagine that people with a different experience might find it hard to understand but actually that's the real point! It doesn't matter whether this is true or not. What matters is this way of thinking for now is helping me get better and tomorrow if it no longer helps me I am happy to change it for something that does.

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