Anxiety disorders are one of the most common psychological illnesses that people face across the globe. An estimated 31.1 percent American adults may experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives, says the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Although the symptoms of anxiety could be debilitating and nagging for a sufferer, a recent research has claimed that a bit of anxiety may actually help boost the memory. Those with a higher level of anxiety might remember particular experiences better than those who have lower levels of anxiety or feel no anxiety at all, said the study, “Emotional Encoding Context Leads to Memory Bias in Individuals with High Anxiety,” published in the journal Brain Sciences in December 2017. It could be because people with higher anxiety have a greater proclivity to experience bad feelings and thoughts, shoving them into a negative mindset. Thus, certain events tend to become more memorable for them.
Even a regular trip to a coffee shop on a bad day would stay longer in the memory because of a negative mindset, said co-author Christopher Lee, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Waterloo, in Canada.
High anxiety level linked to memory boost
The researchers gave an anxiety test to 80 undergraduate students and measured their anxiety levels two weeks prior to the survey. The study found that people who had a higher score showed an increased susceptibility to negative feelings compared to others with lower anxiety levels. The respondents did not suffer from anxiety disorders.
Further, in order to test the memory of the respondents, the researchers showed them a string of neutral words and overlaid these onto a photo depicting a negative scene or a neutral scene like a lake or trees. The neutral words were like ‘table’ or ‘desk’, something that did not elicit any emotion. The participants had to rethink the words later on, causing them to re-enter either a negative or a neutral mindset.
The researchers again gave the respondents another series of neutral words and tested their memory. The findings revealed that people, who had a negative mindset and higher levels of anxiety, remembered the new set of words better. Those with lower anxiety levels did not remember much.
The researchers concluded that when individuals with high levels of anxiety absorbed otherwise emotionally impartial information, it combined with their negative mindset. However, similar results were not observed in people with lower anxiety levels. Although nothing concrete is known about how anxiety enhances memory, it could be possible that for people with high levels of anxiety, memories of neutral experiences or data learned when they are in a negative state of mind, becomes more biased making it unforgettable.
The findings of this study are in sharp contrast to earlier research, which found that extreme levels of anxiety disorders are harmful for memory. However, the researchers said that the study examined those anxious people for whom their anxiety was not debilitating. Moreover, the study observed the participant’s memory of only words and not for other aspects like color, scenes, faces, etc. It also did not take into account the way an individual retains information.
Dealing with anxiety disorders
It is never easy living with an anxiety disorder. People suffering from anxiety disorders have immense difficulty in carrying out their everyday chores. If not treated early, symptoms could exacerbate, complicating the treatment program. However, timely treatment assuages symptoms and one can easily manage anxiety disorders.
Sovereign Health is the premier behavioral health caregiver in the United States offering holistic and evidence-based anxiety disorder treatment to patients. If you have a loved one struggling with anxiety, and you are scouting for anxiety disorder treatment centers, call at our 24/7 helpline or chat online with our mental health experts for immediate assistance.