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BRAIN FOG: Ways You Can Deal With It!

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

Author: Jeevitha Ramesh


Mr. John was working in a multinational company. He was awarded best performer two times in five years of working in that company. But recently he was seen struggling to focus, he also felt less mentally sharp than usual, his thoughts and emotions were numb, and everyday activities seemed to require more effort. In addition he was also feeling that he was forgetting about a task he had to complete, taking much longer than usual to complete very simple work, he started feeling distracted frequently and tired when working. When John met his Doctor and explained all his issues, the Doctor started to talk about Brain Fog.


In this blog, we will explore more about brain fog, it’s causes, symptoms and how one can overcome it.


Brain fog is a type of cognitive dysfunction where there are memory problems, lack of mental clarity, poor concentration, inability to focus. It is also described as mental fatigue. It is not a medical condition in itself, rather a symptom of other medical conditions (impact in cognition due to stress, anxiety or depression). Depending on the severity of brain fog, it can interfere with work or personal life. But it does not have to be a permanent fixture in one's life.


Brain fog may last for any amount of time, from a few minutes to years. As we know it is a symptom rather than a medical disorder, a person going through brain fog may experience following signs or symptoms.

  • Being in a confused state most of the time,

  • Feeling of fatigue,

  • Not being able to focus and getting easily distracted

  • Having trouble organizing thoughts, issues in problem solving ability,

  • Poor memory (such as even forgetting daily tasks) or word-finding difficulties.

There are several explanations for the question why brain fog occurs? By understanding or identifying why brain fog occurs and what causes it, one can begin to fix the problem. So, possible causes are,

  • Increased Stress: Prolonged stress can increase blood pressure. Weakening of the immune system, and it may trigger depression. In turn it may also cause mental fatigue. When the brain is exhausted, it’s cognitive abilities go down, it becomes harder to think, reason, and focus.

  • Lack of quality sleep: Poor sleep quality and quantity can interfere with how well the brain functions. Sleep deprivation may lead to poor concentration and fogged thoughts.

  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes may also trigger brain fog. Changes in levels of the hormones like progesterone or estrogen can affect memory and cause short-term cognitive impairment.

  • Similarly, a drop in estrogen level during menopause in women can cause forgetfulness, poor concentration.

  • Diet: Diet plays a major role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, unhealthy/improper diet may lead to brain fog. For example, Vitamin B-12 supports healthy brain function, and a vitamin B-12 deficiency can bring about brain fog.

  • Medications: One can notice brain fog during taking medication, that can be a known side effect of the drug. Lowering dosage or switching to another drug may improve symptoms.

  • Brain fog can also occur after cancer treatments. This is referred to as chemo brain.

  • Medical conditions: Medical conditions associated with changes in blood glucose level can also cause mental fatigue. For example, brain fog is one of the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Other conditions may also cause brain fog which includes anemia, depression, diabetes, migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, hypothyroidism, COVID -19 etc. Recently in COVID-19 patients along with common symptoms (like fever, cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue), neurological symptoms were also seen that affects the brain and nervous system. It was reported that up to 25% of people who developed COVID-19 experienced brain fog.



Possible causes for brain fog

As now we have understood about brain fog and its causes. We will turn our attention to know how to deal with brain fog.


There is no such specific treatment for it. However, managing the conditions causing it, may help in dealing with it effectively. For example, if one is anemic, iron supplements may increase red blood cell production and reduce brain fog. Sometimes, just by correcting nutritional deficiency, switching medications, or improving the quality of sleep can take away relieving brain fog.


But it is crucial to understand that when few positive changes are adopted, it may help in the very long run. One can start,

  • Performing aerobic exercise: Starting mild physical exercise, like just for 2-3 minutes a few times a day can improve brain health by increasing supply of oxygen.

  • Eating healthy meals: A healthy diet which has healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, and whole grains will help to keep hormones in balance and brain cells active.

  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs : As it alters brain chemistry by altering neurotransmitters and this can lead to disrupting brain tissue and neurons (brain cell).

  • Sleeping well: Sleeping is a time and for 7-8 hours everyday helps the brain and body clear out toxins and work efficiently. (Cerebrospinal fluid present in the brain helps in washing toxins out of the brain during sleep).

  • Participating in social activities or in volunteering activities : Humans are social animals, social activities benefit one’s moods, and also help cognitive abilities like memory, decision making as well.

Also, engaging oneself in novel activities (like learning a new language or learning to play a new musical instrument), or cognitively stimulating activities (like jigsaw puzzles, sudoku or chess), or listening to music or practicing meditation and keeping up a positive mental attitude. Which can help in overcoming or even staying away from brain fog.

Practices to overcome brain fog

However, one should see a doctor if brain fog regularly interferes with the ability to complete easy daily tasks, facing problems with daily functioning. For example, one forgets to pay electric bills or forgets the way home or if a memory seems to be getting steadily worse.


In today’s demanding world we face too many challenges. A high amount of stress and cognitive load is affecting an individual's cognitive abilities and leading to brain fog. This is eventually affecting productivity. Brain fog can strongly disrupt a person’s daily life and may lead to worsening of mental health conditions due to conflict with work or loved ones.


References

Barbara Schildkrout (2011). Unmasking Psychological Symptoms. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 183–184. ISBN 9780470639078.

M. Basavanna (2000). Dictionary of psychology. Allied Publishers. p. 65. ISBN 8177640305.

Plum and Posner's diagnosis of stupor and coma. Oxford University Press. 2007. pp. 5–6. ISBN 9780199886531.

Augusto Caraceni; Luigi Grassi (2011). Delirium: Acute Confusional States in Palliative Medicine. Oxford University Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780199572052.

Yudofsky & Hales (2008). The American Psychiatric Publishing textbook of neuropsychiatry and behavioral neurosciences. American Psychiatric Pub. p. 477. ISBN 978-1585622399.

Roger A. MacKinnon; Robert Michels; Peter J. Buckley (2006). The Psychiatric Interview in Clinical Practice 2nd edition. American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. pp. 462–464.

Neurological manifestations of coronavirus disease 2019: exploring past to understand present. Ishita Desai, Rajat Manchanda, and Mritunjai Kumar Neurol Sci. 2021 Jan 11 : 1–13. doi: 10.1007/s10072-020-04964-8 [Epub ahead of print]

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