Anxiety can lead to forgetfulness and that makes you even more anxious.

You are not alone if you forgot what you were told 10 minutes ago. Although there may be many causes for short-term memory loss, one of them can be workplace stress.

It seems the more stressed you are the less you can recall, and that can lead to even more stress.

Scientists say one of the reasons for memory loss is too much cortisol, a natural hormone released when we are feeling stressed (released as part of our inbuilt fight or flight response) that can prevent the formation of memories in some people.

Too much continual stress can cause you to forget what you just heard, or what you were meant to do next. Sound familiar?


Any kind of stress can bring this on, even workplace stress and the anxious feelings some people experience as they get closer to work in the morning.

We've all done it. Jump in the car thinking of the family, and as the journey continues so the mental lists start building up of what you have to do at work today. It could cause you to forget the basics after you have parked the car.

A study into the effects of cortisol on the mind was released last year by researchers at the University of Iowa. They found that people with abnormally high levels, or prolonged spikes of cortisol in their body, experienced not only short-term memory loss but digestion problems, anxiety, weight gain and high blood pressure.

The author of the paper, Jason Radley, an assistant professor in psychology at the university says: "Stress hormones are one mechanism that we believe leads to weathering of the brain."

In other words, people who experience stress year in and year out may end up with poor memories. Researchers found that older rats that had high cortisol levels were consistently the worst in maze trials.

Radley's findings raise the possibility that short-term memory decline in ageing adults may be slowed or prevented by treatments that decrease levels of cortisol in susceptible people.

That could mean treating people who have naturally high levels of cortisol - such as those who are depressed or who experience repeated, long-term stress, such as those under constant pressure at work.

And it seems the pressure is starting to build on workers everywhere as employers continue to look for productivity gains by employing as few staff as possible.


It is one of the insights revealed in a Regus report that canvassed 22,000 business people in more than 100 countries about their work environment. It found the top triggers of workplace stress are lack of exercise, unreliable IT, and feeling understaffed.

The Regus report says many workers believe one way of easing the tension associated with demanding jobs is a break from the main office, at least some of the time; 74 per cent found a change of scenery, such as working from another location, to be a good stress reliever.

Nick Bradshaw, Regus New Zealand's country manager, says: "While stress levels are mounting in the workplace as a result of a combination of factors such as feeling deskbound and under-resourced, workers across the globe agree that flexible working provides a useful outlet." Guillermo Rotman, chief executive officer of the Regus Group Americas, says: "Stress in the workforce can provide companies with significant challenges: management and work productivity can be seriously impaired, motivation levels may be damaged, and conflict between colleagues can undermine professionalism."

Closer to home, Janice Davies helps people with self-esteem and anxiety issues and is planning to make a feel-good feature film called The Success Attitude. She says people working in stressful jobs need to stop, think, and pin down what or who is causing them stress.

"A key thing is to live in the now," she says. "Try not to think hours or days ahead, because the problems you might be worrying about may never happen. Instead, deal with where you are and what you need to do now.

"For people who get stressed doing routine monthly chores, such as wages or accounts, it may be that more forethought and better systems need to be created to make it easier next time.

"It is an awareness thing, and a part of being aware is to look at your workload and decide if you are being put upon by colleagues - are you doing their work for them, and if so, why? Perhaps you can hand some of it back."

Forgetfulness and stress

Cortisol is the hormone your body releases during stress and is known to prevent the formation of memories and to cause memory loss. When you are anxious you increase the amount of cortisol in your system. That can have repercussions, such as forgetfulness.

When you're dealing with anxiety, trying to focus on anything else becomes almost impossible. Remember, lots of people forget things all the time. But if you have anxiety it's easy to worry that your forgetfulness means something more. You may just be having "one of those days".