Have you been feeling forgetful lately? Can you not even remember if you've felt forgetful lately? Wait, how did you get here? Wait, where are your keys? Wait, what were you doing before you started reading this article about things that cause forgetfulness? Oh my god, the stove!
Yes, I'm sure your carpets will be fine eventually (you have renter's insurance, right?). Now, where were we? Oh, yes: forgetfulness. If you've been on an epic run of forgetting your lunch at home, forgetting your rent check on the kitchen table, and forgetting that you're getting married this coming Sunday, it can be easy to assume the worst. But if you're not elderly, the odds are slim that your memory problems are caused by the early onset of a neurological problem like dementia or Alzheimer's.
Rather, your memory problems are probably caused by more pedestrian issues like stress, medication, stress, not getting enough sleep, hormonal changes, and stress. Did you notice a theme there? Most memory problems among younger people are caused by emotional discord, which leads us to become distracted and unfocused, and thus less effective both at making new memories or summoning old ones. But luckily, almost all of these causes are only temporary, or easy to fix with the proper medication.
So don't flip out the next time you spend an hour looking for your glasses, only to realize that you're actually wearing your glasses. Instead, read about the seven most common causes of forgetfulness ... you know, if you can remember to.
Oh, did you think that stress was only making you exhausted and irritable and un-horny? That's cute. But you're totally wrong.
Stress' tentacles can take hold in pretty much any of your brain or mind's functions, and that includes your memory. A study in the journal Science found that stress can activate an enzyme called "protein kinase C" in the brain, which can short-circuit our short-term memory (not news to anyone who has ever had their mind go blank right before a huge test or high-pressure wedding toast, of course). The enzyme deflates our ability to focus — especially when we're coping with multiple stressful situations.
A single stressful situation can make us have tunnel-vision focus, which is why you may forget your house keys on a day when all you can think about it a big meeting at work. But if you're trying to navigate your way through multiple stressful situations? Forget about it (literally).
I'm sure you've read about how multitasking ten projects forces you to do about one-tenth of the job you'd do with any of them if you just focused. But it turns out that that spread-thin focus isn't just bad news for anyone trying to do a decent job — it's bad for your memory, too. Overextending yourself with too many tasks can cause stress, which can cause your memory to fail you, and frequent interruptions can make it hard for your brain to form new memories.
So only one tab open at a time from now on. Ha ha, sorry, just messing with you. But maybe try to keep it at somewhere under 10?
3. Lack Of Sleep
In case you were somehow not already obsessed with your chronic lack of sleep and all the health problems it can lead to, it can also cause you to forget important birthdays, bat mitzvahs, and dental appointments (OK, maybe you forgot the dental appointment on purpose). Missing sleep can lead to stress and anxiety, which in turn can lead to forgetfulness, which can then lead to more stress, which can then lead to more forgetfulness.
It's kind of like the circle of life, if the circle of life was only made out of things that are horrible.
When you're depressed, it's hard to focus on anything, or engage with the world at all; which is why depressed people can have a hard time remembering things. The level of distraction that typifies depression can prevent your brain from creating new memories — which is especially bad news if the thing you're trying to remember is the time of your therapy appointment, or when to take your meds.
But depression isn't permanent, and neither are depression-related memory issues: doctors find that our memories tend to go back to normal when we get a handle on our depression.
5. Certain Medications
Noticed that you never remember to lock the front door since you started taking Paxil, or Tagamet, or Lipitor, or Xanax, or Klonopin, or Mirapex? If you're on meds to treat anything from anxiety to Parkinson's, there's a chance that your drug(s) of choice could be negatively impacting your memory abilities. But don't worry, you don't have to choose between being healthy and remembering your phone — there are alternative medications in almost every category that don't mess with your memory as much, should you find it's a major problem.
6. An Underactive Thyroid
Famous for its near-magical abilities to slow your metabolism, mess with your periods, skew your sense of temperature, and generally induce a feeling of sloth-style sluggishness, an underactive thyroid can also induce insomnia and depression — both of which have a tendency to make our memories become underactive, as well.
Luckily, slow thyroids can be fixed easily with medication; as can overactive thyroids, which have been linked to poor concentration skills, which can lead to — you guessed it!— forgetfulness. Or maybe you didn't guess it. I don't know, have you had your thyroid checked out lately?
Though studies haven't 100 percent proved its existence, "pregnancy brain" or "baby brain" is more than just a dumb plot point on some sitcom you saw the last time you were at your parents' house — many women report memory problems during pregnancy, including misplacing items and becoming distracted in the middle of activities.
Some researchers think that these symptoms could be caused by anything from hormonal changes to the stress and sleep deprivation that often accompany pregnancy— while others think that it's all about perception; since there's so much press about "baby brain," women anticipate experiencing it, and thus are extra sensitive to any lapses in memory that they may experience.