Feeling like your brain isn’t plugged in properly? Maybe you’re forgetting mindless tasks or are simply feeling spaced out and distracted? Don’t worry, you’re not alone – a brain fog phenomenon is upon us.
COVID-19 is adding to the number of people experiencing problems with concentration and mental clarity – typically the results of anxiety or depression.
While brain fog isn’t a medical term, it is a type of cognitive dysfunction, and cognitive dysfunction is an issue effecting about 600 million people across the globe.
Some COVID-19 survivors have seen an increase in difficulty performing mental tasks. In fact, 81 per cent of coronavirus sufferers in one particular study experienced brain fog according to 2021 research by the American Neurological Association.
However, you don’t have to have tested positive to COVID to struggle with clear thinking.
Pandemic burnout is also contributing to brain fog. Everchanging restrictions and guidelines, lockdowns, working while homeschooling, stressful situations and uncertainty contribute to fatigue and, in turn, impact mental health.
Stress and depression is even thought to shrink the brain, which further impairs cognitive function, Yale University researchers found in 2012.
"People should be aware that if they’ve got numbness or weakness, serious memory problems, this could have something to do with their brain," neurologist Dr Michael Zandi told The Atlantic .
What is brain fog?
Although it’s not a technical term used by medical professionals, brain fog is certainly being felt across the globe.
"It is used by individuals to describe how they feel when their thinking is sluggish, fuzzy and not sharp," Harvard Health Publishing explains.
Physiological and psychological factors can cause brain fog and it can last anywhere from a couple of hours up to weeks – for some even months, especially if you’ve suffered COVID-19.
In some instances, brain fog can be an early indicator of a serious underlying illness or can even be a symptom of menopause. Always seek medical advice if you’re experiencing abnormalities.
Seven signs of brain fog
- Memory problems
- Lack of mental clarity
- Slowed thinking
- Trouble doing simple tasks
- Difficulty focusing
- Language issues (trouble finding the right word)
- Feeling clumsy
What causes brain fog?
Brain fog is a sign that something is not quite right – you could be feeling stressed, experiencing depression, be having trouble sleeping or experiencing hormonal changes.
"Brain fog is not a disease, disorder or diagnosis; rather it is a sign or a symptom of an underlying health condition, a side effect of medication, the result of hormonal changes or the consequence of dietary issues or lifestyle choices," Dr Sabina Brennan wrote in Beating Brain Fog.
From snap lockdowns and soaring COVID-19 cases to travel restrictions preventing many from seeing family, the past 18 months have created a constant stream of stressful situations for people across the world.
When the body experiences stress, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, which releases adrenaline and noradrenaline. This means energy is diverted away from the body’s typical functions in attempt to combat the stressor.
"The basic idea is that the brain is shunting its resources because it’s in survival mode, not memory mode," Chief Scientific Officer at McLean Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School Dr Kerry Ressler told Harvard Health Publishing.
This is why many experience brain fog and memory loss during stressful times.
There is no ignoring the incredible impact food has on wellbeing and brain health.
The Mediterranean diet has long been praised for its benefits towards cognitive productivity. A diet rich in fish, vegetables, legumes, nuts and olive oil is thought to protect the brain and help improve memory.
Avoid foods that cause inflammation – which in turn increases pro-inflammatory cytokines in the blood and brain – including refined sugar, vegetable oils, processed meats and alcohol.
A huge 62 per cent of the world’s population don’t feel like they sleep well. Losing just one or two hours of sleep can have the same impact on cognitive function as going without sleep for a day or two, the World Economic Forum suggests.
Research has found sleep deprivation disrupts our brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, which results in brain fog.
Ensure you get a good night’s sleep by eliminating disruptors including alcohol and unhealthy food, avoiding screens and technology use close to bedtime, creating a relaxing oasis in your bedroom, drinking more water, exercising, exposing yourself to light during the day to boost your circadian system and meditation to reduce stress.
How to overcome brain fog?
Simple home solutions could be all it takes to rid yourself of brain fog.
Getting adequate amounts of sleep, eating a healthy diet rich in superfoods, brain training, listening to music, avoiding alcohol and drugs, practising mindfulness and meditation and managing stress can help improve brain function.
However, don’t rely on Dr Google. You should always seek medical advice if you experience any abnormalities.