By Dr.Manvir Bhatia , Ananya-Team NSC
Those foggy mornings, when we really cannot see anything clearly while walking or driving, are a real nuisance. We lack clarity of vision and it becomes really difficult to keep going ahead.
A similar condition occurs in the case of brain fog. A person feels cloudy-headed. It may happen due to overworking, stress, excessive exposure to blue light, or some other underlying medical condition. It becomes extremely frustrating after a point and It is characterized by confusion, forgetfulness, lack of mental clarity, and lack of focus. High levels of inflammation and hormonal disturbance are responsible at the cellular level. It can also lead to other comorbidities such as diabetes, obesity, abnormal menstruation, etc.
Symptoms of brain fog include:
- It becomes extremely difficult for an individual to focus on a particular thought or idea.
- An individual is unable to recall things.
- Falling asleep becomes a challenge. A person tends to suffer from insomnia.
- Headaches and mood swings become extremely common.
- A lack of motivation makes one feel less energetic.
Causes of brain fog:
Stress: It has the capability of increasing blood pressure, weakening our immune system, increasing anxiety, and triggering depression. It makes the brain exhausted, making it difficult for us to focus.
Medication: Intake of some medications might make us foggy. These include anticholinergics, antihistamine treatment for the management of allergies, etc. Chemotherapy and drugs used during cancer treatment are extremely strong and affect a person’s ability to think, focus and multitask. This effect is generally short-lived, but sometimes it continues for a very long time.
Depression: Depression causes a loss of energy and motivation. People tend to become less enthusiastic. This affects our brain such that it causes fog.
Lack of sleep: Some people experience this(brain fog) occasionally if they haven’t slept well. A regular, good quality sleep of 7-9 hours is optimal for us. Long-term sleep deprivation also negatively impacts our thinking capability.
Chronic inflammatory diseases – Includes conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis(MS), and Sjogren’s syndrome. Inflammation in any part of the body, in general, tends to affect the brain. It decreases the volume of grey matter in the inferior parietal lobe. Such patients tend to suffer from chronic pain, fatigue, and anxiety, which distracts them and affects their ability to think and focus well. The medications used in the treatment of these conditions are also responsible for the same. Multiple sclerosis adversely damages the central nervous system. Therefore, it raises the condition of brain fog as there are issues with memory, planning, language, and attention.
Hormonal changes: A balanced level of hormones is important for us to think clearly and be efficient. A few conditions that result in hormonal changes are listed below:
- Pregnancy – During pregnancy, the levels of estrogen and progesterone increase. This is the time when women are overwhelmed, and sensitive and find it difficult to focus and control their emotions.
- Menopause – A decrease in the levels of estrogen adversely affects concentration levels. At this stage of life, women find it very hard to learn new things and remember them.
- Thyroid – hypothyroidism adversely affects many organs of the body, including the brain. It affects our ability to concentrate, think and perform.
COVID-19 infection – It can cause inflammation in the brain, which adversely affects the ability of the neurons to communicate with each other, thereby causing brain fog. Indirectly, the anxiety and pandemic caused by the pandemic has also contributed to this condition.
Chronic fatigue syndrome – We suffer from this when both our body and brain are tired for a very long period of time. One is unable to think properly and focus.
It is also common in the case of a variety of health conditions such as neuroimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. Disorders of mast cell activation are majorly responsible.
Ways to reduce brain fog:
Enough sleep: Sleep serves as a drainage system for our body to remove toxins that may be involved in the feeling of brain fog. Following a fixed sleep routine, practicing good sleep hygiene, and avoiding electronic devices at least two hours before sleep is helpful in getting quality sleep.
Regular exercise: Exercise makes us tired. This helps us sleep well and then be fresh and active.
Good quality diet: Food rich in vitamins, especially B12 can be very helpful to fight brain fog. Also, intake of food that we are mildly allergic to shall be avoided. Prolonged hunger and dehydration should be avoided at all costs.
Avoiding multitasking: Our brain gets extremely tired when we try to multitask. It drains our energy and lowers our efficiency.
Mental breaks – Our mind is a machine that needs some rest after strenuous work. These breaks should be such that one thinks about nothing. Keeping our eyes closed for some time, going out for a walk, and indulging in relaxing hobbies are a few ideal ways. Meditation is also a great way to relax our minds.
Efforts to focus attention – Nowadays, people are constantly distracted all the time by various things. This makes them quite restless, as anything concrete does not seem to get done. We should consciously try to focus our attention on a single task no matter how small it is and try to complete it.
Try new things – Our brain needs new interests on a regular basis to stay stimulated. Reading a new genre of a book every month, taking a different route to work, trying to cook something new, etc., are a few activities where our brain stimulates itself to think.
Brain fog has the general symptom of confusion and tiredness. It can be extremely frustrating
If this continues for a long time, immediate measures should be taken to deal with it. Seeking out therapy and making appropriate lifestyle changes can be extremely effective to alleviate this condition.
Callan, C., Ladds, E., Husain, L., Pattinson, K., & Greenhalgh, T. (2022). ‘I can’t cope with multiple inputs’: a qualitative study of the lived experience of ‘brain fog’ after COVID-19. BMJ Open, 12(2), e056366.