Are you having a hard time making yourself focus? Maybe you often space out or lose mental clarity that you’re unable to accomplish your tasks. Brain Fog happens when you experience mental fatigue that greatly affects your ability to think and perform well. Although not a medical condition, brain fog can be a real problem or indicate something more serious. This article will help you learn about brain fog symptoms, causes, treatment, and other related information you need to know.
Brain fog is a general term that refers to a set of symptoms affecting mental processes such as memory and concentration. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has historically used it (as its other term, “clouding of consciousness”) in its definition of delirium. Later on, the DSM-III-R and the DSM-IV replaced the term with “disturbance of consciousness”.
Quite common, brain fog can affect people of any age. It can also lead to various problems like depression, anxiety, and even delinquency.
The conceptual model of brain fog is that of a part of the brain regulating the “overall level” of the consciousness part of the brain gets disturbed. This system of general activation of consciousness is referred to as “arousal” or “wakefulness”.
According to researchers, sleep deprivation disrupts our brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, leading to temporary mental lapses that affect memory and visual perception.
Brain fog is not necessarily accompanied by drowsiness, however. Patients may be awake (not sleepy) but still have a clouded consciousness (disorder of wakefulness). Sufferers declare that they are “awake but, in another way, not”. Decreased wakefulness as used here is not exactly synonymous with drowsiness. One is a stage on the way to coma, the other on the way to sleep which is very different.
The sufferer experiences a subjective sensation of mental clouding described in his own words as feeling “foggy”. A person described it as “I thought it became like misty, in some way… the outlines were sort of fuzzy”. Others may describe a spaced out feeling. Sufferers compare their overall experience to that of a dream. In a dream consciousness, one’s attention, orientation to time and place, perceptions, and awareness are disturbed. Barbara Schildkrout, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist at the Harvard Medical School described her subjective experience of mental fog. It happened after she took a single dose of the antihistamine chlorpheniramine for her cottonwood allergy while on a cross-country road trip. She described feeling “out of it” and being in a “dreamy state”. She described a sense of not trusting her own judgment and a dulled awareness. Not knowing how long time went by. Clouding of consciousness is not the same as depersonalization, even though sufferers of both compare their experience to that of a dream. Psychometric tests produce little evidence of any relationship between mental fog and depersonalization.
Brain fog may affect performance on any cognitive task. As one author put it, “It should be apparent that cognition is not possible without a reasonable degree of arousal.” Cognition includes perception, memory, learning, executive functions, language, constructive abilities, voluntary motor control, attention, and mental speed. The most significant, however, are inattention, thought process abnormalities, comprehension abnormalities, and language abnormalities. The extent of the impairment is variable because inattention may impair several cognitive functions. Sufferers may complain of forgetfulness, being confused, or being unable to think straight.
Despite the similarities, subsyndromal delirium is not the same thing as mild cognitive impairment. The fundamental difference is that mild cognitive impairment is a dementia-like impairment, which does not involve a disturbance in arousal (wakefulness). The emerging concept of sluggish cognitive tempo has also been implicated in the expression of brain fog symptoms.
Brain fog symptoms vary but include common ones shared by individuals with the same conditions. These are some of them:
- Inability to Focus or Concentrate
- Chronic Fatigue
- Feelings of Confusion/Disorientation
- Cognitive Problems
- Negative Feelings
All serious symptoms are usually more severe than when you have a typical brain fog (forgetting your keys or having a cloudy mind every Monday, for example). They are consistent and have a much greater effect on you.
As previously mentioned, brain fog is not a medical condition, but a symptom of one. There are many different medical conditions which can cause brain fog. Like brain fog symptoms, triggers depend on the person’s situation, health, and other significant factors. The following are some of the most common causes of brain fog:
- Stress (physical or psychological or both)
- Unhealthy Sleeping Habits
- Lack of Exercise
- Prescription Medications
- Health Problems
- Natural Occurrences (e.g. pregnancy, menopause, etc.)
- Mental Health Conditions
Aside from the fact that it’s often associated with medical conditions, brain fog is only best understood by knowing someone’s particular experience. There is no specific test that can determine a brain fog diagnosis.
Anxiety and Brain Fog
Brain fog anxiety happens when people feel anxious and aren’t able to concentrate. Their mental state might be less sharp than normal. They struggle at work and their thoughts and emotions may feel hazy. It’s also normal for people to experience occasional cognitive fog and anxiety in stressful circumstances.
COVID-19 and Brain Fog
Brain fog is a symptom that’s recently been added to those with COVID-19. One person described it as feeling normal but having cognitive challenges. Many people who recovered from COVID-19 also reported the same thing. Their thinking and memory still haven’t returned to normal despite the doctor not finding anything wrong.
If brain fog is triggered by an ailment, professional help is necessary. Proper treatment alone is the way to deal with both brain fog and the condition that caused it. Still, there are a few remedies and temporary solutions you can try for yourself. For instance, getting proper sleep, moving your body more, eating right, drinking enough water, managing stress (through resting well, meditation, etc.), and engaging in a hobby are all helpful. It’s important to keep your immune system healthy.
As humans, it’s completely normal for us to experience brain fog. We may have different symptoms and not have only one diagnosis. Some experience brain fog because of a mental health condition while others get it from extreme stress. No matter which form, it’s very important to take brain fog seriously. You need to seek professional advice to understand what your brain fog symptoms indicate. You can only recover best once you know what your specific case is and how you should properly deal with it. There are many available qualified physicians you can trust to help you overcome brain fog. Treatment and a healthy lifestyle are essential.
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