Brain fog may not be recognized as an actual medical condition, but it sure can feel like one! That sluggish feeling you’re having may not just be your average tiredness or exhaustion, especially if it’s combined with mood changes, anxiety and depression, confusion, memory loss, forgetfulness and a lack of mental clarity. In this article, we break through the clouds and discuss everything there is to know about clearing up the haze that’s clouding your mind, disrupting your productivity and affecting your quality of life and overall health and wellness.
What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog isn’t actually a medical condition in itself, although it can certainly feel like one. Rather, it’s a term used to describe the feeling of being mentally dragged down, sluggish and fuzzy. It can feel like you have a lack of mental clarity or you may have difficulty remembering things. You may start to think negatively about yourself due to the loss of mental sharpness, have troubles paying attention to your surroundings, focusing on one thought or idea, or multitasking like you typically do.
You may also start to experience physical pain and discomfort when dealing with brain fog, such as headaches and fatigue.
However, it’s important to mention that your brain fog may look different from someone else’s.
Signs You May Be Dealing with Brain Fog
Brain fog can show up differently from person to person. For instance, you might feel exhausted and easily confused, while someone else might struggle with forgetfulness and lack of focus. Even though the experience can vary, both of these situations can be considered examples of brain fog.
To help you determine if you are, in fact, dealing with what is commonly referred to as “brain fog”, here are some common symptoms to look out for:
- Mental cloudiness: a reduced ability to perceive, understand and think clearly.
- Fatigue: an ongoing sense of tiredness that interferes with your daily life. Fatigue can also be followed with irritability, loneliness, forgetfulness and depression.
- Confusion: having a hard time focusing or making decisions. You may also experience the slurring of your words, the need to pause mid-speech, missing direction, difficulty tracking time, sudden mood changes and easily lose your train of thought.
- Lack of focus: difficulty directing your attention to a single task or thought. Your brain might wander and you may constantly get the urge to look at your phone. You may also have difficulty making decisions, finding motivation to complete work and see a decrease in your overall productivity and performance as a result.
- Difficulty concentrating: having difficulty immersing yourself in a task. You may look at something in front of you without ever making any progress on it. You may be prone to distractions, have trouble direction your attention at will and even if you are able to narrow in on the task at hand, you have a hard time making the steps forward to complete the task.
- Forgetfulness: frequently forgetting things, whether it’s a task or memory.
Common Causes of Brain Fog
There are several factors and potential causes of brain fog, and it isn’t unusual to experience it as a result of having a combination of factors working against you. For example, a lack of sleep may not be enough to cause brain fog but a lack of sleep combined with increased stress and a poor diet certainly can.
Additionally, many of the factors that can cause brain fog also cause other factors that can also contribute to it. For example, depression can lead to increased stress and a lack of sleep. So that one factor, depression, actually encompasses many others that are working against your mental clarity.
You can experience brain fog on its own. However, it is often a symptom of other health conditions and concerns, such as:
- A lack of sleep
- Poor sleep patterns or sleep hygiene
- Increased or chronic stress
- Hormonal conditions, such as thyroid disorder
- Hormonal changes due to pregnancy and menopause
- Chronic health conditions, such as M.S.
- Medications, particularly ones that have side effects that can affect cognitive performance
- Nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin B12
- Vital infections, such as covid-19 and sars
How to Clear Up Brain Fog
The first thing you should do if you are experiencing chronic brain fog is speaking with your healthcare provider. This is because brain fog can be a symptom of a serious health condition and your doctor will be able to determine if there is an underlying cause contributing to your mental fog.
However, even if your doctor is unable to find a cause, there are still many things you can do to start clearing up the haze and finding clarity again.
Here are some popular ways to treat brain fog.
Use Adaptive Strategies to Get By
If you’re struggling with brain fog, you can start treating it by using some short-term adaptive strategies. These are little things you can do to manage everyday tasks until you’re able to regain your mental clarity.
You can try jotting down notes or setting alarms to help you remember important times, appointments and deadlines. You can also schedule regular breaks during long projects to help you maintain focus and increase productivity.
Another helpful strategy is to track your daily activities using an app on your phone so you can identify the times of day when you feel most alert and focused vs. most drained and fatigued. Not only can this tip help you see if there is a pattern contributing to your fatigue, but it can also help reserve a time for more challenging tasks when you’re most alert.
Increase Your Physical Activity
With your brain feeling like you just went through the world’s most complicated escape room (ahem: exhausted), physical activity is likely that last thing you feel like doing. However, it can work wonders for your focus, and is certainly worth a try.
Now, if the thought of doing a high-intensity workout makes you feel overwhelmed, remember that you don’t have to go hard fresh out the gate. You can start with a simple exercise, such as a daily walk or taking a yoga class, and gradually work your way up.
Prioritize Your Sleep
It goes without saying: getting more rest should help your brain (and body) feel more energized. If you’re dealing with brain fog, getting enough sleep is crucial for your brain and body to have the energy and clarity needed to function throughout the day. Sleep can also help clear out harmful toxins that may be contributing to your hazy problem.
Aim to establish a consistent sleep schedule – and yes, that means waking up and going to bed the same time each day even on weekends. You’ll also want to try to get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and these tips can help:
- Avoid using electronic devices like your phone, laptop, or TV before bedtime at least one hour before bed, as the blue light from these can interfere with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and disrupt your rest.
- Give yourself time to wind down each night. This might be doing some yoga or stretches, meditation or simply going through a nightly routine that tells your brain and body that it’s time to rest.
- Treat yourself to some soothing self-care activities that induce sleep. Use a lavender sleep spray, rub some magnesium lotion on your skin, dim the lights and write in a journal to release any built-up stress and anxiety from the day.
Change Things Up
Making some simple changes to the way you typically do things can be an effective way to eradicate brain fog and keep your brain active and sharp. Try taking a different route to work, listen to some music during your commute if you typically drive in silence, start the morning with a walk and healthy breakfast instead of grabbing a coffee and heading out the door, or change up your space by adding in some plants or décor. This can be enough to reignite your brain.
Play More Brain Games
Instead of scrolling aimlessly on social media, try to spend your screen time doing something that will benefit your brain. There are all kinds of fun puzzle games available on your electronic devices that can help keep the brain sharp and alert – just be sure to not let them be more of a distraction than they are helpful.
Invest in Healthy Habits
Whether it’s limiting your alcohol consumption or ensuring you’re eating a balanced diet, investing in healthier, positive habits can make a significant impact on how you feel mentally. Doing so can also help combat a variety of contributing factors; killing two (or ten) birds with one stone. For example, eating healthier and consuming less alcohol can clear up nutritional deficiencies while also improving your sleep. So, invest in yourself. You deserve it.
Experiencing brain fog can really drag you down – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially. The good news: there are solutions that can effectively clear up brain fog. Just remember to speak with your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms to rule out any potential problems.