Anxiety and Cognitive Function

What’s the Connection?

People who suffer from anxiety tend to score lower on tests of cognitive function. These functions can include reading comprehension, mathematics, logic, and spatial recognition. Having good cognitive function helps you succeed in school or at work and avoid being put at risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

What is the connection between anxiety and cognitive function?

When we experience anxiety, our bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol (the “stress hormone”), which prepare us to react. These hormones, while helpful at the moment, can cause long-term problems if we’re constantly experiencing them. The main connection between anxiety and cognitive function is that anxiety can interfere with your ability to attend and concentrate. 

Anxiety can also make it difficult to process information as quickly as you would like. Cognitive function can be affected by many factors, including your age, diet, medications, genetics, and sleep quality. Anxiety can also be a side effect of other conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression.

How does anxiety harm cognitive function?

Anxiety can negatively impact your cognitive function in a couple of ways.

  • Anxiety can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which can cause you to feel “stressed out,” exhausted, and unable to focus. While you might assume that the best way to tackle this problem is to simply “calm down,” the reality is that it can be extremely difficult to calm yourself down when you’re anxious. When you’re in a stressful situation, your body releases a rush of hormones that make it easier to deal with the situation. These hormones, like adrenaline, help you focus and concentrate on the task at hand. However, once the stressful situation has passed, your body should return to normal.
  • People who struggle with anxiety often have a slower return to normal function. This can make it difficult to concentrate, solve problems, and remember things.

Strategies to improve cognitive function in those with anxiety

If you’re experiencing anxiety and struggling with cognitive function, one of the best things you can do is to begin therapy or begin taking medication as soon as possible.

  • Therapy. When it comes to treating anxiety, therapy is an excellent choice. While there are many types of therapy, the two most commonly recommended are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Cognitive Remediation Therapy (CRT). CBT is useful for treating anxiety disorders as well as more general mental health issues. CRT is a therapy that focuses specifically on improving cognitive function.
  • Medication. While therapy is a great option for many people, it is not for everyone. If you would like to pursue medication, you should speak to a mental health professional who can help you find the right medication for your specific situation.
  • Diet. What you eat can have a big impact on both your anxiety and your cognitive function. Eating a healthy, balanced diet (with lots of vegetables and whole grains and fewer processed foods) can help you feel more energized and less likely to experience anxiety.
  • Sleep. Getting enough sleep can help to reduce anxiety and improve cognitive function. To get the most benefit out of your sleep, you should avoid consuming caffeine and large quantities of sugar and alcohol close to bedtime.

Anxiety can negatively impact your ability to process information quickly and remember important details. To combat these issues, it’s important to manage your anxiety and avoid straining your cognitive function. If you are experiencing anxiety and struggling with cognitive function, you should seek therapy or begin taking medication as soon as possible.

The author of this article is a therapist from the Sensera app. Sensera is a daily 10-minute self-therapy app. It’ll help you to cope with various mental problems (anxiety, self-esteem, relationship issues). Feel better with CBT audio sessions and exercises. Download now to become happier!

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