Anxiety and slow processing speed

By Tara Drinks

Expert reviewed by Ellen Braaten, PhD

Updated April 14, 2023

Slow processing speed and anxiety: What you need to know. A person zones out during a conversation with friends.

At a glance

  • People with slow processing speed often feel anxious.

  • These anxious moments can happen without warning. 

  • Acknowledging anxious feelings is the first step in managing them.

For people with slow processing speed, anxiety can pop up at any moment throughout the day. That’s because slow processing speed can impact many activities, from taking a test to talking with friends and co-workers.

In some cases, frequent anxiety can turn into a bigger anxiety problem. Here’s what you need to know about slow processing speed and anxiety, and how you can help.

How anxiety and slow processing speed fuel each other

When any of us feel anxious, we freeze for a moment. During that time, we’re not processing information as quickly as we typically do. And we may take longer to respond. This is how anxiety can impact processing speed. 

Slow processing speed can also create feelings of anxiety. Imagine being a student, sitting in a classroom and taking a test. Other students are turning pages from problem to problem, while you’re still on the first page.

This type of situation can create a lot of anxiety for people with slow processing speed. The more anxious they become, the slower they process and react.

Signs of anxiety and slow processing speed 

People with slow processing speed may not always realize how, or when, their challenges are impacting them. For example, most people with slow processing speed have trouble with time perception — the concept of how quickly or slowly time is passing.

They may think they have enough time to complete a task when they’re actually almost out of time. If this has happened to them often, they may fear they can’t get things done in time. Then they may decide to not even try. These challenges can lead to feelings of anxiety.

Social situations can cause anxiety, too. People with slow processing speed may have trouble keeping up with what’s going on in their group of friends or with relatives. Or they may not react to things in expected ways because they process something, like a joke, more slowly. 

Ways to help

Anxiety and slow processing speed can be a hidden struggle. People don’t often talk about the two together. And not talking about these challenges can leave people feeling anxious about finding help.

Here are ways that kids and adults with slow processing speed can minimize anxiety:

  • Be self-aware. It’s important to recognize and respect that there’s no right or wrong processing speed. It’s just one of many differences in how we all operate.
  • Acknowledge the anxiety. The first step toward managing feelings is to identify them. Recognizing the anxiety can help you better manage it.
  • Build an awareness of time. Wear a watch, or set a timer, to keep track of time and develop a better sense of time perception.
  • Plan for extra time. If you know that you or your child may take longer to do a task, adjust the timetable to accommodate that.
  • Watch for signs of chronic anxiety. These can include physical, emotional, and behavioral signs. Use an anxiety log to look for patterns.

Read about the connection between slow processing speed and executive function. And find out if processing speed can be improved

Key takeaways

  • Slow processing speed and anxiety can fuel each other.

  • There’s no right or wrong speed — just differences in how we all operate.

  • Connect with a health care provider if anxiety is getting in the way of everyday functioning.

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