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There’s nothing more frustrating than the inability to focus when faced with a long to-do list. Time continues to tick away, and you’ve yet to check a single item off the list. While a lack of focus happens to us all from time to time, when you’re consistently struggling to think clearly, you could be experiencing a symptom known as “brain fog.”
What is brain fog?
Brain fog isn’t a recognized medical condition, but a term used to describe a set of symptoms affecting the ability to think clearly. In the medical community, brain fog is also known as cognitive dysfunction.
People experiencing brain fog commonly report that they are unable to concentrate, with their minds feeling foggy and sluggish. However, brain fog is experienced differently depending on the person and can include any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty paying attention.
- Problems with memory and retaining information.
- Slower response times.
- A decrease in critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
What causes brain fog?
Brain fog is frequently associated with certain medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, depression, and hypothyroidism. However, our lifestyle and the choices we make regarding our overall health also play a significant role.
It’s easy to get discouraged when our brain isn’t functioning normally. Instead of feeling frustrated, try to think of brain fog as an indicator that your life needs a slight adjustment.
But what is causing your brain fog? And what adjustments should you make? Let’s explore some options.
1) Sedentary lifestyle
Every minute you stay glued to your couch, you’re depriving your body of “feel-good” chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are structurally comparable to morphine and behave similarly.
Through regular exercise, we boost the release of endorphins—allowing our bodies to relax and let go of stress and tension.
As stress and anxiety ease, the cloudy parts of our mind begin to clear. We are more focused, alert, and able to sort through our mind’s clutter.
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t taking advantage of these benefits. According to the American Health Association, only 20% of Americans are getting enough weekly exercise. Their guidelines suggest that individuals should be shooting for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.
Not only will exercise help improve your cognitive function, but it also has a host of other benefits. Exercise lowers the risk of heart disease, increases bone density, and helps aid in better sleep. In other words, there’s no excuse to start moving your body more.
2) Dietary choices
We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat,” but have you ever taken a minute to think about its meaning? Just like you wouldn’t expect your car to run without fuel, you can’t expect a sharp mind when you’re depriving your body of vital nutrients.
If we want to increase our mental function, we must be mindful of the foods we choose to consume.
An article published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that 90% of Americans consume more sodium than the recommended intake of less than 2,300mg per day. If you’re like most Americans, you can start improving your diet by reducing your sodium intake.
If you have a Vitamin B-12 deficiency, this condition can also contribute to symptoms of brain fog. This vitamin is responsible for healthy brain function. Consuming more fish, shellfish, and low-fat yogurt can improve your levels of Vitamin B-12.
Lastly, be mindful of any food allergies you may have. Some common food allergies include gluten, cheese, and dairy products.
Food allergies cause inflammation in the body, which can lead to congestion and inconsistent sleep patterns. Over time, these conditions can cloud the mind and leave you with a foggy brain.
Research has shown that even mild cases of dehydration can lead to lapses in cognitive function. While a dehydration level of 2% has very noticeable adverse effects, even 1% can impair concentration, alertness, and short-term memory. It’s also common for dehydration to mask itself as hunger.
So next time you’re feeling hungry, try reaching for the water bottle instead.
But how much water should we be drinking per day? You’ve probably heard that 64 ounces a day (or eight 8oz-glasses) is sufficient. But to get even more specific, you should drink at least half an ounce for each pound of body weight. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you should aim for about 70 ounces of water per day.
4) Information overload
As technology has advanced, so has our ability to find information quicker and easier than ever. Take Google as an example. We enter in a search query, and the search engine indexes thousands of sites to provide us with results.
With so much information available to us, it’s no surprise that many of us are dealing with information overload. We struggle to understand or make decisions because our brains can’t process all the information at once.
So how can we solve this problem? One approach is by reducing the amount of multi-tasking. When our brains are constantly switching from one context to another, we reduce our ability to retain information, which hinders us from interpreting data correctly.
Instead, we should train our minds to focus on a single task at a time.
However, even focused on a single task, our brain still requires breaks to re-vitalize and re-charge. The Pomodoro technique is one technique you can use to break down work into manageable chunks.
The Pomodoro technique breaks down your task into 25-minute time blocks, with 5-minute breaks in between. Each of these working intervals is called a pomodoro. After completing four pomodoros, you extend the length of the break to 15-30 minutes. By taking consistent breaks, we can get work done faster, with less mental fatigue.
If you’ve tried every trick in the book to manage your brain fog, and you’re still left feeling stumped, it’s time to take a look in your medicine cabinet. While we often think of nausea and drowsiness as common side effects of medication, brain fog can also be a side effect of certain medications.
A report by the U.S. News lists the most common drugs known to cause cognitive impairments, and these include:
- Antihistamines used to treat allergies.
- Benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety.
- Beta-blockers used to treat high blood pressure.
If you suspect your medication could be to blame, it’s essential to speak to your doctor.
He or she may suggest alternative medications, or you may be able to resolve your brain fog by lowering your dosage.
Brain fog can be overwhelming, especially when it starts to intrude on your career and long-term goals. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone when dealing with symptoms of brain fog. Your brain fog does not define you, and there are ways to overcome it.
The first step towards relief is making a conscious decision to improve your situation. Keep in mind that you don’t have to manage your symptoms alone. Therapists are available to provide support or talk to your doctor to explore additional treatment options that you may not have thought of yourself.
Do you or someone you know suffer from brain fog? How do you manage it? Share your feedback in the comments below!
Author bio: Krystal Childrey is a health and wellness copywriter located in Seattle, WA. She is a registered yoga teacher and a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). When she’s not writing or practicing yoga, she enjoys finding new day hikes to explore across the Pacific Northwest.