Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Can't Find Your Keys? Think You're Losing Your Mind? Don't Panic! It May Be Simple Stress

Stress can mess with your memory
Stress can mess with your memory

When your memory is shot, you might worry you have an attention disorder. However, it's important not to jump to conclusions.

Daphne can't remember a phone number two minutes after hearing it. She also keeps losing her keys. When she goes to the shops, she has to take a list with her because otherwise she buys everything except for the thing she went out to buy.

Daphne is convinced she has ADD/ADHD. Her attention is messed up, right? And from seeing TikTok videos, she knows that attention disorders are sometimes overlooked.

Social media is terrific for raising awareness. It's also helping people open up and talk about mental health, removing the stigma that has haunted so many of us.

However, social media has some negatives that can sabotage good information.

Understand social media

First, fear and drama sell

It's much easier to attract likes by posting about doom, disaster, struggle and anger than it is to tell a simple story about reasonable people coming together to implement reasonable solutions.

Second, information online has to be bite-sized to be popular.

That's a problem because mental health tends to be complicated. You can't condense a 120 minute Tarantino film into a 22 second summary without losing something.

Third, there is often no quality control, no expert review.  

Sometimes that's okay, especially if it's simple stuff, but with the penchant for fear and drama and the condensing, you can get some very poor-quality information trending.

In the first half of 2022 TikTok was hot on attention disorders. But did you know that poor memory is also linked to depression and anxiety?

Research shows that certain kinds of depression can come with poor memory. Also, certain types of anxiety interfere with memory making. It's not one size fits all, though. There are lots of people with depression who have an excellent memory and the same goes for lots of people with anxiety.

However, studies show that when you combine anxiety and depression, the combination typically wreaks merry hell with memory. And the thing is, you don't need to have severe anxiety or severe depression. It can be as simple as a bit of low mood and a punch of life stress.

Putting it together

So, where does this leave Daphne who keeps losing her keys and being stranded in the supermarket aisle?

Given mental health is complicated, I'd suggest she not look for a quick or easy fix. Like the tailors say, measure twice and cut once. Spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what is going on, and only when you're certain, look at management and treatment options.  

If Daphne has the funds and the access, she can go and see a psychiatrist, a medical doctor who specializes in mental health issues. She will have a long chat with Daphne and based on that, will then decide on the proper assessments to figure out what's going on.

This will likely take several hours and two or even three visits. At the end of that, she'll probably have a pretty good diagnosis at which point she can make informed decisions.

If Daphne can't manage that, she might see a mental health practitioner like me.

I'd start by asking questions:

  • Tell me about your memory this week
  • Tell me about your memory last year
  • Tell me about your memory when you were a kid
  • Do you have a family history of attention disorders, anxiety, depression or other issues?
  • Are you on any medication? Because some meds mess with your mood and memory
  • Are you menopausal? Yup, that can do it, too
  • Been in any fights? Played rugby? Been in a car accident? Your basic physical trauma questions
  • Have you recently had food poisoning? Because gut health is linked to mood and memory
  • What kind of work do you do? Because certain chemicals like paint and insecticide… yes, you guessed it! Have an effect on mood and memory!
  • What does your family doctor say about your physical health? Because certain physical issues like wonky thyroids can have an effect on mood and memory
  • What's been going on in the last 12 months? Because too much change can have an effect on mood and memory. People don't always remember what's going on, so I have a 50+ item list to kick off with
  • How's your sleep? Because sleep deprivation is a killer, literally, and it messes up mental health
  • Do you overthink things? Do you ever get short of breath? Do you come out in rashes? Because I'm checking for anxiety
  • When you were a kid, did you self-harm? Were you bulimic? Because people sometimes don't know they've a history of stress or anxiety and these issues can be related to anxiety
  • What are your hobbies? Are you enjoying them at the moment? Because I'm checking for depression and low mood, both of which can impact on memory
  • What's your family like? And tell me about your friendship groups. Connections matter. We're social creatures
  • How much happiness is there in your week? I'm looking at daily patterns

As I'm not a medical doctor, I cannot diagnose. But at the end of an hour, I should be able to tell you if I think you need to see a doctor.

Also, I will be able to tell you if I think you have anxiety, depression, both or perhaps something else like a form of PTSD or whether you should consult an expert to see if you have an attention disorder.

Speaking personally, I'm fairly conservative when it comes to medication. As mental health is always tricky, I think it's safest to go for talk therapy first and if that doesn't work, to see about other methods to manage. Assuming of course that you're not in a crisis of some kind.

Surprisingly often, classic therapy approaches for managing anxiety and low mood are enough to bring about significant changes for anyone suffering from too much life stress.

Also, it can't hurt you and if we put in solid goals to make sure we can track progress, it's generally speaking a good first option.

I hope you find this interesting and informative. Thanks for reading!

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay