Brain Fog: The Causes of Brain Fog and 6 Habits to Fix It
Do you often find it difficult to concentrate?
Or are there times when you feel disoriented, as if there’s a constant haze around everything so that it’s hard to form a coherent thought?
If you are experiencing difficulties keeping your focus, you could be suffering from brain fog. In this article, we’ll define brain fog, talk about a few common causes, provide nine common symptoms, and then give you six habits that can help you alleviate some of the symptoms that you might be experiencing.
What Is Brain Fog?
Merriam-Webster gives this definition for brain fog: “A usually temporary state of diminished mental capacity marked by inability to concentrate or to think or reason clearly.”
This condition is characterized by excessive cognitive fatigue. While most people may experience symptoms of mental exhaustion from time to time, true brain fog can possibly lead to serious problems, such as reduced productivity, a decrease in one's job performance, and weakened physical functioning. Being able to recognize the symptoms of brain fog can help prevent unnecessary problems in your life.
While brain fog is common, it is not considered to be an independent medical condition. Instead, it is a symptom of other possible health issues. Some people also refer to this cognitive dysfunction as mental fatigue, as it lead to impaired function of the brain and affects one's concentration and focus.
Brain fog can be the result of having a lot on your mind. Having a prolonged cognitive load can decrease one's ability to think clearly and concentrate as they normally would. This can impact someone for both short and long periods of time, depending on the person and the circumstances.
Even though this is not a life-threatening illness, brain fog is still an issue that should never be ignored.
6 Causes of Brain Fog
Identifying the causes of brain fog can help you to prevent its occurrence.
1. Eating the wrong kinds of food.
You might be lacking certain nutrients, or the foods you eat could cause brain fog. Vitamin B-12 is important for healthy brain function, and having a deficiency in this vitamin can lead to brain fog. Also, if you have food allergies or you are sensitive to certain foods, brain fog may occur after eating these foods.
Some common foods that may lead to brain fog include MSG, peanuts, bacon, alcohol, aspartame, refined carbohydrates, caffeine, and dairy. Removing these foods (and others that are harmful to your health) from your diet can help reduce your brain fog.
2. Chronic stress.
Chronic stress can lead to headaches, insomnia, high blood sugar, stomach aches, and tense muscles. It also increases blood pressure, weakens immunity, and can even lead to depression. In addition to all of these symptoms, chronic stress can lead to brain fog. When your brain is exhausted, you have a difficult time thinking, reasoning, and focusing.
Some kinds of stress are good for our minds and bodies because they keep us active and on our toes. But this positive stress is motivating, while chronic stress is damaging.
3. Hormonal changes.
Have you ever heard of "pregnancy" brain? This is known as a side effect of pregnancy due to the hormonal changes that go on in the body during pregnancy that trigger brain fog.
Levels of progesterone and estrogen both increase during pregnancy, which can affect your memory and lead to short-term cognitive dysfunction. Fortunately, once the hormones are back in balance, the brain fog should subside.
Similarly, when women experience a drop in their estrogen levels during menopause, it can lead to forgetfulness, a lack of concentration, and cloudy thinking. A lack of appropriate levels of thyroid hormones can also lead to brain fog.
4. Medical conditions.
Medical conditions that are associated with inflammation, fatigue, or fluctuations in blood sugar levels can also lead to brain fog. For example, people who have chronic fatigue syndrome often suffer from brain fog. Additionally, people with fibromyalgia often experience brain fog on a daily basis.
Other medical conditions that can lead to brain fog include:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Sjögren syndrome
- Alzheimer’s disease
5. Certain medicines and treatments.
The side effects of certain medications and treatments such as chemotherapy include brain fog. If you notice that you are experiencing brain fog while you're taking medication, talk to your doctor about this side effect, because it may be common. It may be possible to decrease your dosage or switch to another medication if you want to improve your symptoms.
6. Lack of sleep.
When you don't get enough sleep, both your body and your brain suffer the consequences. Also, if the quality of your sleep is poor, it can interfere with your brain's ability to properly function. Research has shown that one of the most important functions of sleep is to replenish and optimize neural connectivity, which means that sleep is vital for your learning and memory skills.
You're probably aware that your alertness and thought processes decline after missing a good night's sleep. When you are sleep deprived, you experience reduces brain activity, which can be seen in brain scans.
When you don’t get enough sleep over long period of time and you start to get used to that routine, the brain fog will start to set in. People often trade sleep for extra time to meet the demands of work or squeeze other activities into their busy lives.
Is It Brain Fog? (Nine Common Symptoms of Brain Fog)
Brain fog can manifest in different ways for everyone. Let’s explore the frequently reported symptoms of brain fog. If you experience many of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from this dysfunction.
1. A sensation of having a “foggy head.”
Brain fog can manifest itself in symptoms such as an actual sensation of mental fogginess or being more unorganized than usual. You may experience sensations of confused or fuzzy thinking. This may result in missing meetings or going to appointments on the wrong days.
When you are going through a phase in your life where you are having trouble with things that were once simple to you, and you feel like you can't quite get a grasp on your life, you are bound to be irritated. It is frustrating to not have a clear mind, and when you can't seem to snap out of it, you will find yourself on edge quite frequently.
This mental confusion can lead to feelings of detachment, discouragement, and depression. The symptoms that accompany brain fog can lead to uneasy feelings for people who experience them, and depression and anxiety commonly occur.
Suffering from brain fog is essentially the opposite from feeling calm, level-headed, and motivated. This condition can easily deplete your inspiration and happiness, and increase the likelihood for anxiety and depression.
Additionally, all of the other symptoms that accompany brain fog can cause anxiety. When you feel so separated from your normal state of being and have physical symptoms such as pain along with it, it is not unusual to be anxious about what is going on with your body.
Brain fog and headaches go hand in hand. Many people experience headaches and head pressure, as well as pain behind their eyes. The pain can start at the back of one's head, close to the neck, and persist up and out to the sides of the temples. Brain fog may also cause the head to feel extremely heavy all the time.
5. Difficulty remembering or understanding conversations.
Brain fog can cause short-term memory loss, which can be troublesome when you're trying to remember things like where you left your keys or your wallet. People suffering from brain fog may also have trouble remembering conversations, finding the words they want to use to describe something, or even mixing up their words.
When you're suffering from brain fog, your visual memory can also be affected, making it difficult to remember pictures or lists. Memory problems such as these can be embarrassing and lead to anxiety.
6. Inability to problem-solve.
If you can't seem to focus or think clearly, you will probably have issues with problem-solving. This may stem from your lack of concentration or reduced memory, but losing the ability to think critically can also impact your problem-solving abilities.
Brain fog occurs due to impaired function of the executive system of your brain, which is the largest and most richly interconnected neural network that your brain has. This network plays a critical role in problem-solving and time management.
7. Failure to recognize or identify common shapes.
When you are experiencing brain fog, you can have trouble remembering even some of the most basic things, such as shapes. You may be too exhausted for the correct term to come to you in regards to the shape you are thinking of, or you may just be at your complete mental capacity and give up.
Having this symptom can especially interfere with one's life because the inability to recognize basic shapes boils over into other areas of life.
8. Forgetting things.
You may be experiencing brain fog if you find that you're increasingly forgetful. This may mean that you have to ask people to repeat themselves, or you accidentally ask someone the same question multiple times.
You may also find that you can't remember things that you have known all of your life, like a family member's phone number or a favorite recipe.
9. Difficulty concentrating.
Having brain fog can make it difficult to concentrate, and leave you with a short attention span. When you are unable to focus or concentrate, it makes it challenging to multitask or learn new skills. Also, having a lack of concentration can make your everyday tasks take longer than usual to complete, typically because the mind is easily distracted so you're likely to get interrupted easily.
When you lose focus due to brain fog, it can also lead to you losing your train of thought in the middle of your sentence, having trouble following conversations, or feeling like you're unable to "get it" when people are talking. Difficulty concentrating also includes a persistent feeling of being unable to think clearly.
6 Habits to Fix (or Reduce) Brain Fog
The effects of brain fog are usually temporary. But depending on the cause, there are things you can do to cope, prevent, or lessen its effects.
1. Eat foods that are right for your needs.
Generally, avoiding processed foods has a positive impact on overall health. If you aren't giving your body the vitamins and minerals that it needs, your ability to think clearly and focus will diminish. Also, you have to make sure that you are eating enough food throughout the day so you are giving your brain consistent energy.
Various mental illnesses and lifestyle factors that lead to brain fog are partially due to improper nutrition. Making sure to eat healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, nuts, and whole grains is a good idea when you're trying to maintain your brain health.
2. Learn to control your stress and get the most out of it.
The right kind of stress is actually beneficial to the body. But chronic stress is a known factor that contributes to an increase in brain fog. If you feel as if you are excessively stressed because of your environment, schedule, or current circumstances, you can make an assertive effort to reduce the stress.
Think about some of the things that you enjoy doing, and try to do them more often. For example, take some time each day to meditate or get some exercise that you enjoy. Carve out some time in your day to catch up with a good friend.
If you feel like your stress is beyond your control, you can consider going to therapy, and do whatever you feel like you need to in order to reduce your constant stress response. Having too much stress alters the hormones in your body and clouds your ability to think.
3. Use memory-strengthening exercises.
Combat brain fog that is caused by hormonal changes with exercises to keep your memory strong. If you don't challenge your brain enough with new, innovative information, the connections in your neurons will eventually start to deteriorate. But brain plasticity research shows us that if you give your brain appropriate stimuli, you can counteract the degeneration.
One way to do memory-strengthening exercises is by playing “brain games,” which can help you sharpen a range of cognitive skills, from reading and comprehension to memory. There are many Internet programs that allow you to play these games and track your progress over time.
Try to do memory-strengthening exercises for at least 20 minutes a day, but don't spend more than about 7 minutes on any given task. Research shows that when you spend longer amounts of time on a task, the benefits begin to decrease. If you don't enjoy brain games, you can also strengthen your memory by learning a new skill.
4. Learning to cope.
It is also important to learn what coping mechanisms work best for you. For example, if you find that your brain fog runs in predictable cycles, such as becoming worse in the late afternoon, make sure to plan your day so that you are not doing extremely important things during the time of day when your brain fog tends to be especially bad.
5. Medicines and treatments.
It might be very helpful to change the dose of your medication (if possible), or start doing memory-strengthening exercises while in chemotherapy. It is best to consult your physician if you experience a clouding of consciousness during medical treatments or while you’re taking medications.
The good news is, brain fog usually goes away relatively quickly after discontinuing a medication that is causing it. So, if you are on a medication that is very important for your overall health, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of staying on the medicine and using other methods of dealing with your brain fog until the course of medication has been completed.
6. Get quality sleep.
Use all the help you can get to have quality zzzzz’s. If your sleep has been lacking, you might want to talk to a doctor to help you find out how to correct the problem. Oversleeping or getting too little sleep could possibly be symptoms of a larger issue, but many people choose to avoid addressing their sleep problems, or simply neglect sleep altogether.
With hectic work schedules and busy family lives, people often choose to leave sleep on the bottom of their "to do" list. But it is important to put some effort into tracking your sleep schedule and keeping a tally of how many hours of sleep you are getting every night. Play around with the number of hours that you sleep so you can figure out how much sleep gives you optimal mental performance.
Brain Fog: Summing It All Up
To sum it up, brain fog is not considered a medical condition, but is the term used for several symptoms that impair the functions of our brains. Even if it’s a temporary condition, it should not be ignored because doing so can lead to complications.
There are different measures that can be taken to prevent brain fog, depending on its cause. So try to identify the cause first before you move forward with treatment efforts.
If you are suffering from brain fog, try the appropriate recommendation in this post for preventing, coping with, or lessening its effects.
One important note: Considering that brain fog might be a symptom of a more serious medical or mental health condition, we strongly recommend consulting a certified medical practitioner regarding this matter.