Do you know moments like that: you are exhausted, sluggish, forgetful, unfocused, and even somehow confused? Then you may have experienced brain fog. Brain Fog is very real and widespread. It is associated with described feelings and can last for a few minutes or even years. While not a disease in and of itself, it can be a sign of an underlying problem.
The good news is, there is something you can do about brain fog to help clear your mind.
Brain Fog: Definition
Brain Fog generally describes a state of forgetfulness, lack of concentration and confusion. It is not uncommon and occurs as a result of other diseases or conditions. Other possible symptoms are fatigue, headaches, memory problems, and lack of mental clarity or disorientation. We forget about upcoming tasks, and they take longer than usual to complete.
Brain Fog: Causes
There can be many causes of brain fog. Some of the most common are anxiety, lack of sleep, stress, and hormonal changes.
Fears generally interfere with our ability to focus on the present moment. Fear hijacks our working memory and prevents us from absorbing new information without losing track of things. In other words: cognitive energy is withdrawn from working memory by fear.
Our memory also suffers when we are mentally exhausted or when we lack sleep.
During non-REM sleep (without rapid eye movements), the brain filters essential memories. REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) consolidates them in concrete terms and retrievable memory entries. With less than six to eight hours of sleep, memory retention suffers. Forgetfulness, confusion and other phenomena of brain fog are the results.
Stress is known to affect cognitive function and memory. Burnout and chronic stress may stimulate the amygdala (the brain’s fear centre) and enlarge this core area. On the other hand, the so-called prefrontal cortex, the place of our cognitive functions, decreases under constant stress and loses connections to other regions of the brain. Then memory and creativity suffer. Brain Fog has also emerged as a general consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine.
However, brain fog has physical causes. For example, hormonal changes such as menopause or pregnancy can affect concentration and memory. Estrogen levels improve memory and other brain processes. But when estrogen levels change, brain malfunctions can occasionally occur.
Brain Fog: What You Can Do
The focus of measures against brain fog is the elimination of the underlying causes. Lifestyle changes with a balanced, healthy diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise can reduce stress and improve our general state of mind.
Yoga, meditation, mindfulness exercises, and stretching are valuable tools. Through meditation, people with brain fog can gain clarity, practice self-compassion and experience through mindfulness.
Mindfulness exercises, e. g. the Body Scan, can uncover the causes of the brain fog, such as simply hunger or thirst or stress about a task or an upcoming project that increases our stress level.
One of the most popular techniques for combating brain fog is the four-step STOP method. It promotes mindfulness, defuses stress and replenishes our energy and creativity stores. We gain a view of the problems at hand and the best solutions. It consists of the following steps:
- 1. Stop no matter what you are doing.
- 2. Take a few deep breaths and try to stay only in the present moment.
- 3. Observe and acknowledge your feelings, physical sensations, and the things that are going on in the external environment around you. Try to identify the reasons why you feel this way and write them down.
- 4. Proceed with your task, incorporating the insight from this brief introspection.
So, the next time you feel brain fog, try briefly to become aware of the present moment. If your mental clarity does not improve despite your attempts to combat brain fog, make sure to contact your primary care doctor.