It is of course advisable to first check your health is fine. A GP can check for any medical illnesses that can cause brain fog,including thyroid issues and chronic fatigue. They can also ensure it’s not something such as your medication, vitamin deficiencies, or bad eating habits.
But if your health is good, then look into the following psychological reasons for brain fog.
Just think of the last time you had bad news and how muddle headed you felt afterwards – people with PTSD or emotional shock can feel like that constantly. While emotional shock resolves after several weeks, PTSD can last a very long time if not treated.
Stress means you know what is upsetting and overwhelming you and leaving you unable to think straight.
Anxiety can be less rational. It tends to leave the mind spinning madly with ‘what if’ scenarios and negative thinking, exhausting your head. Brain fog can even increase your sense of anxiety, because brain fog can make you feel even more out of control and in danger.
Adult ADHD could cause something similar to brain fog, in that the mind is so active it can feel overloaded, and there can be moments of what can feel like ‘thought fatigue’ after hyperactive highs.
Why do things like stress and anxiety leave me with a foggy brain?
When your brain experiences a situation that causes stress or anxiety, the cortex (rationalisation) is turned down, along with the hippocampus (learning and memory). The amygdala (reaction to danger), however, is turned up. So you become less able to be rational and sort information and instead become hyper-vigilant.
This is not only a switch in your regular brain functioning, it doesn’t seem to leave much of your brain space for other things. And with ongoing anxiety, your brain can be in this ‘red alert’ state constantly.
Then there are the hormones released when we feel stressed. It’s an invigorating cocktail to provide enough energy to handle things, but it sends the brain into a spin that is ultimately exhausting. For example, the high levels of cortisol leave you buzzy but eventually lead to a crash. And fatigue then adds to your inability to think straight.
What do I do if I have brain fog?
Learning how to manage stress and anxiety is a good idea. This lowers your body’s ‘fight or flight’ mode, meaning you are less stimulated and your clear thoughts have a better chance of returning. Things like self-care and exercise are useful. Mindfulness has also been shown in clinical studies to help stress.
If it’s ongoing stress behind your foggy head, anxiety that won’t stop, you are also experiencing low moods, or if you suspect your brain fog is connected to adult ADHD or past trauma, it’s highly advisable to seek support.
A professional counsellor or therapist can help you quickly ascertain what is driving your brain into a fog, as well at what steps you can now take to regain clarity of thought.