In this post, we explain the science behind brain fog and provide tips on how to improve your mental clarity.
Have you ever experienced a day where you felt full of energy, witty and sharp as a tack, while other days you feel like you can’t focus or remember anything? If so, you may be part of the millions of people that experience a phenomenon known as brain fog on a regular basis. For many of us, it is worrisome and, at times, scary especially as we get older.
As anyone who has experienced this lack of mental clarity can tell you, it can impact our relationships with the people around us who rely on us staying sharp. Read on to learn what exactly brain fog is, plus how to combat its debilitating symptoms and think more clearly.
What is Brain Fog?
Often described as mental fatigue, brain fog is a type of cognitive dysfunction that can make you feel like you are unable to focus or think clearly. It can hinder your memory, attention and concentration, resulting in an overall “fuzzy” or “foggy” feeling.
The symptoms of brain fog can easily interfere with one’s ability to perform at work, with family, and/or in their social life, but—spoiler alert—it can be fixed.
Symptoms of brain fog can include:
• Trouble concentrating
• Lack of motivation
• Losing focus
• Difficulty making decisions
Contributors to Brain Fog
Stress: Consider the following metaphor from Healthline: your brain is a computer, and anxiety and stress are the programs that run in the background, using up a ton of memory and focus from the motherboard. The result? Every other program runs more slowly.
For example, a large home remodelling project or large family event could cause you short-term and high stress. That stress put pressure on your brain that will eventually get tired and impair your abilities to stay on task. You feeling distracted can also induce additional stress and prevent you from taking the time to exercise, sleeping well, eating well, and taking care of your body as a whole. Overall you are feeling hopeless, but there are ways to cope and override that sensation.
Remedy: If it is a short-term stressor caused by an unique event like planning for a family member’s wedding, the brain fog is likely to be in sync with that event happening. It is a bit counter-intuitive, but you have to think of and do other activities to distract your brain from the root cause of stress. To diminish this stress, you may want to delegate some tasks to some people you trust and try to minimize the number of milestones you set for yourself.
You can then allocate some time to exercise, practice yoga and meditation to calm your mind and get more things done. Sometimes, you may need and seek medical help to reduce this stress. Everybody is different but it is important that you take the appropriate steps that make you feel better.
Not Enough Sleep: We’ve all been there. You miss a few hours of sleep one night and the next morning you feel like you are running on auto-pilot and can’t seem to think straight. This is a classic example of brain fog! When you don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep (for an adult), it can lead to cloudy thoughts and poor concentration.
Remedy: Set a bedtime for most evenings and stick to it (resist the urge to press play on another episode of The Crown). Eliminate screens and devices before bed, and instead enjoy a calming routine like a warm bath followed by a book. When your body becomes used to your new schedule, your brain will start winding down naturally and start to feel sleepy. Need some inspiration? Here’s an example of a sleep routine for adults.
Unhealthy Diet: Whether you’re too busy to prepare healthy meals or you just prefer the taste and convenience of processed foods, unfortunately this can contribute to the presence of brain fog. Processed and unhealthy foods do not contain the necessary vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function at its best. When you are deficient in certain vitamins (such as Vitamin B12 and Vitamin C), your brain’s ability to function is affected and can therefore lead to the dreaded brain fog.
Remedy: Think about your brain like the powerful organ it is. It does not like sugary, processed foods – period! Stick to eating a wide-ranging diet full of vegetables, protein, and good fats. Feed your body with the nutrients it needs to boost energy levels and stop brain fog in its tracks. For tips on which foods to add to your grocery list, check out the anti-inflammatory lifestyle guide.
Limited Physical Activity: Like it or not, when we don’t exercise, it can lead to a wide range of negative impacts on the body. Physical inactivity is even linked to many chronic diseases. Getting active means your body is actively pumping blood, oxygen, and glucose to the brain, improving its health, function, and symptoms of brain fog. It’s almost like feeding your brain the fuel it needs!
Without exercise, your body may have higher circulating levels of a stress hormone known as cortisol. Something as simple as participating in a low-intensity exercise like walking can result in lower stress levels.
Remedy: Diminish brain fog by getting that blood pumping! Health Canada recommends that adults participate in just 20-30 minutes of low to moderate-intensity exercise to reap the benefits. So next time you’re experiencing brain fog or just can’t think straight – take a quick walk around the block, or engage in an activity suited to your level of ability, and see if it helps!
Chronic Causes of Brain Fog
Seasonal Affective Disorder: Also known as “winter brain” or “winter fog,” Seasonal Affective Disorder can leave us feeling tired, irritable, depressed and unhappy, making it difficult to get through our everyday routines without difficulty.
Brain fog symptoms are often experienced during winter months where the days run short and Canadians run out of sunlight. Other contributors may be medical/health conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, and more.
Remedy: Move somewhere warm! Just kidding…maybe. If heading to Florida isn’t an option (a pipe dream for the vast majority of us!) and you experience brain fog during the winter season, build a healthier lifestyle starting with the basics. Challenge yourself to stay active, get enough sleep, limit stressors, and eat well. Prioritizing your health is a sure way to reduce symptoms of brain fog – no beach needed.
Underlying Medical Conditions: There are a variety of instances that can alter your body’s homeostasis and feeling of normalcy, depending on your age and life stage. These include pregnancy, multiple sclerosis, cancer and cancer treatment, menopause, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression, anemia and diabetes. Each of these can that can leave you feeling symptoms of brain fog. If you have tried to address brain fog with home remedies (sleep, diet, exercise) to no avail, consider seeing a medical professional to look for another reason you are experiencing these symptoms.
Getting Back Your Mental Clarity
The best way to begin the treatment of brain fog is to find the root cause. As mentioned above, sometimes relieving the symptoms of brain fog is only a matter of correcting a lifestyle habit that you’ve adopted.
Another way to keep your brain in tip top shape is brain exercises and games. They’re a great way to keep you feeling mentally sharp and boost your memory, focus, and concentration – especially as you age.
Try the following to mentally stimulate your brain (and enjoy some fun in the process):
- Card Games
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Crossword puzzles
- Learning a new language
For fun, give our word search puzzle below to warm up your brain for the day!
In addition to the tips above, consider a supplement like MemowellTM to keep yourself mentally sharp and stimulated. This natural health product specifically aims to support brain health and cognitive function. It contains a proprietary blend of boswellia serrata and bacopa monnieri extracts and vitamin D to maximize brain benefits. Learn more.