Mental Block Caused by Anxiety, What Can You Do?

Sometimes, when you experience states of great emotional intensity, it's common to suffer mental blocks. This is actually a defense mechanism. In fact, your brain is actually interrrupting certain processes to protect you.
Mental Block Caused by Anxiety, What Can You Do?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 19 April, 2023

When you experience a mental block caused by anxiety you might go completely blank mid-sentence. It’s a psychological phenomenon that prevents you from thinking clearly and making decisions. This failure in your reasoning and flow of thoughts is mediated by a state of great emotional intensity. In fact, your brain feels that it’s reached its limit.

This happens to all of us at some time or another. Nevertheless, it’s both annoying and worrying. In many cases, you might also even feel quite strange. This is known as depersonalization. It’s a state in which you suddenly feel separated from your mind without really understanding what’s happening.

This interruption in brain processing is directly related to states of stress and anxiety. However, it’s also linked to psychological realities such as lack of self-esteem and even medical problems such as fibromyalgia. Let’s take a look at it.

Woman suffering from mental block due to anxiety

Mental block caused by anxiety

A mental block caused by anxiety means being unable to think or remember what you were doing or saying. It may be a one-off or might last for several days. In the latter case, you experience some slowing down when you’re thinking. It’s like being surrounded by a certain mental fog in which you find it difficult to work, decide, be creative and even interact socially.

It’s clear that, although this is a common phenomenon, it’s also an extremely restricting one. Indeed, mental blockage caused by anxiety makes it impossible for you to follow your processes or lines of thought. This directly affects your ability to react. For example, you might not be able to perform in an exam, continue with a public speech, or even remember where you’re going while driving.

The next question to ask is: are these experiences serious? The answer to this depends on its origin. As a matter of fact, although the trigger is usually emotional (anxiety), it can also be due to a nutritional deficit ( vitamin b12 ), not getting enough sleep, or as a side effect of certain medication.

Maladaptive anxiety and its effect on cognition

Nowadays, anxiety is extremely common. It’s a state that tends to overwhelm you and make you feel as if you’re no longer in control. However, it’s an inherent part of life. Indeed, it serves a purpose and is necessary. However, the problem is, that you tend not to handle it properly and it becomes maladaptive.

The University of Maryland (USA) conducted research that suggested anxiety disorders have a major impact on cognition (thought processes). Therefore, when emotions are very intense and the brain acts only in survival mode, mental blocks are common. It’s a defense mechanism against an overload of emotions.

 When the imbalance between neurotransmitters is so intense, various brain regions begin to fail. The areas most affected are those of spatial orientation and the prefrontal region, which allows us to make decisions. A mental block/slow thinking is almost like putting yourself on standby. It’s a defense mechanism to reduce excessive emotional load.

Mental block caused by anxiety is motivated by personality

Anxiety is often the result of your personality style. For example, perfectionists tend to suffer many mental blocks due to anxiety. Indeed, with their constant need to take care of every possible detail and seek excellence, they often go to unhealthy extremes.

Another trigger can be impostor syndrome, which is often caused by low self-esteem. In this case, the person never feels as if they’re good enough or competent enough. This leads to situations of great emotional intensity in which they experience frequent mental blocks.

man suffering from mental block due to anxiety

What can you do in these situations?

Having a mental block due to anxiety every now and then isn’t really a problem. In fact, these kinds of experiences simply remind you of the need to manage your emotions a little better. However, if the phenomenon is constant, you should consult a specialist.

Sometimes, there may be an underlying health problem. Nevertheless, whatever the cause, there are also some simple strategies to handle these types of psychological effects that are orchestrated by stress or anxiety.

Go back

When you get stuck without knowing what you were saying or doing, try to remember what you were doing before or what led you to that situation. For example, if you’re having a conversation with someone and you’ve lost the thread, ask the person what the last thing they said to you was.

Visualize to reduce emotional charge

A mental block caused by anxiety is never resolved by more worry. In fact, you have to change your approach to reduce the intensity of it.

The ideal is to practice mental visualization (mental imagery) for a few moments. For example, imagine a completely calm scene. This allows your brain to restart and balance your production of neurotransmitters.

Practice moderate physical activity

When emotions are running high, it’s useful to resort to physical movement. In fact, going for a walk or a run promotes oxygenation of the brain, as well as the production of serotonin and endorphins.

Finally, you should try to view a mental block caused by anxiety as a wake-up call. In fact, every time you experience one, you should tell yourself it’s time to take life at a different pace.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bills, Arthur G. (1931-01-01). “Blocking: A New Principle of Mental Fatigue”. The American Journal of Psychology43 (2): 230–245. doi:10.2307/1414771
  • Maxcey, A.M., Dezso, B., Megla, E. et al. Unintentional forgetting is beyond cognitive control. Cogn. Research 4, 25 (2019).
  • Imam, A., Dr. (2020, May 10). Incidental Forgetting and Motivated forgetting [PDF]. Samastipur College, Department of Psychology.
  • Robinson, O. J., Vytal, K., Cornwell, B. R., & Grillon, C. (2013). The impact of anxiety upon cognition: perspectives from human threat of shock studies. Frontiers in human neuroscience7, 203.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.