You’ve been a little on edge about starting a new job and noticed you don’t always think clearly. But fuzzy thoughts – sometimes called brain fog – aren’t usually a big deal. They can happen to anyone under a variety of conditions. But understanding what brain fog is – and isn’t – is the best way to help yourself get over it.
Anxiety and Brain Fog
Anxiety and brain fog have a complicated relationship, but anxiety – short-term worry, hesitancy, sleep and eating problems, and relationship trouble – isn’t to blame for brain fog. Rather, it’s one of many contributing factors.
Even though it’s not recognized as a stand-alone medical condition, brain fog might be a symptom of several mental health ailments, like generalized anxiety disorder or medical conditions including muscular dystrophy. It can also be caused by temporary issues like problems sleeping.
Someone with brain fog often describes it as feeling spaced out or like they can’t think clearly. You could have short-term problems focusing, with memory, and may even have difficulty recalling certain words or phrases – making it hard to finish a task or carry on a conversation. Cognitive difficulties which linger could make you less confident in social settings, school, or even at home – driving you to avoid situations where quick and coherent thinking normally rules the day.
Consequences of Brain Fog
Brain fog is often regarded as a symptom of other medical conditions. It’s characterized by cognitive dysfunction highlighted by:
- Problems with memory.
- Absence of mental clarity.
- Lack of concentration.
- Lack of focus.
If you have brain fog coupled with anxiety, it’s not unusual to describe it as a case of mental fatigue. And depending on how bad it is, brain fog can interfere with all facets of your life. But it doesn’t have to be permanent.
Brain fog is also sometimes described as slow or sluggish thinking under various circumstances – for example, when you’re sleep-deprived or not feeling well, or because of side effects like drowsiness caused by certain medications. In some cases, it may happen after chemotherapy or a concussion. Potential causes for both conditions may include:
- Hormone changes related to menopause or thyroid problems.
- Low moods.
- Stress. According to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, stress causes many symptoms people associate with brain fog, like forgetfulness and confusion.
- Lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation is known to cause “short-term daytime cognitive impairment.”
- You have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, particularly in the case of vitamins in the B group. Vitamin B-1, for instance, helps nerves and your brain communicate, and vitamin B-12 is a mood booster.
In many cases, brain fog is short-lived and gets better on its own. Ultimately, we don’t really understand what causes brain fog or how long certain symptoms could last. But it can affect different aspects of cognitive function.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Depending on the severity and duration of brain fog and how it affects daily life, you may need to consult with your healthcare provider about a diagnosis. Ongoing cognitive problems could be a sign of a worse problem, but short-term problems from anxiety can often be treated with medications like ketamine.
Neither brain fog nor anxiety need to rule your life. David Duncan, M.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, says there are ways to combat brain fog. Coincidentally, many of these also work against anxiety.
- Adopt and practice a healthier sleep routine. This means getting seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours, setting and keeping a sleep schedule, and avoiding distractions before you go to sleep.
- Get some exercise. Maintaining physical activity and eating healthy foods offer numerous benefits, especially regarding brain fog. By mixing exercise with a diet rich in vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, you can lower cognitive decline and symptoms you may associate with a lack of focus or mental clarity. A Mediterranean meal plan is highly recommended.
- Stay away from alcohol, recreational drugs, and tobacco.
- Stay connected with family and friends.
- Don’t forget to do things that bring happiness in your life, like reading, playing games or music, or mindfulness exercises.
If you see a healthcare provider about brain fog or anxiety, you’ll likely undergo a thorough medical examination to see if there’s an underlying medical condition causing your symptoms. If a problem is discovered, there’s a good possibility it can be treated. In some cases, you may be referred to a mental health specialist if there’s suspicion that your anxiety has turned into a more serious anxiety disorder.