If you find yourself struggling to think clearly or experiencing brain fog, you're not alone. Many people report feeling like they can't concentrate, focus, or retain information as well as they used to. There are many factors that can contribute to this feeling, including stress, anxiety, sleep disturbances, poor nutrition, and most recently, because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of routine or catching COVID-19 itself.
1. Lack of routine
Neuroscientist Sabina Brennan published a book a couple of years ago titled Beating Brain Fog, in which she explains how to overcome brain fog symptoms that result in a loss of mental clarity or "foggy thinking".
Brennan pointed out that a lack of routine is one of the primary reasons why people experience brain fog, as the brain loves patterns. Prior to the pandemic, around 40% of our behaviours were habitual, and this was essential for effective brain function. However, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns disrupted these routines, making it challenging for the brain to identify a pattern. Reintroducing routine, especially each morning and night as a "bookend" of the day, is a crucial step in overcoming brain fog.
2. Sleep disturbances
In addition, Brennan stressed the importance of getting quality sleep, which is crucial in combating brain fog. She compared the brain's need for sleep to the streets being cleaned at night when there's no traffic. Lack of sleep results in "sleep debt", which can be identified by feeling groggy upon waking up.
So, with that, one way to combat brain fog is to practice good sleep hygiene. This includes going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, avoiding screens before bed, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine.
3. Medical conditions
Certain medical conditions can also cause brain fog. These include chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and Lyme disease, among others. The most recent buzz would be individuals complaining about long COVID-19 brain fog. Chinese researchers have noted the the persistent impairment in sustained attention amongst recovered COVID-19 patients.
What should you do if you may be experiencing COVID-19 brain fog? The first and most important thing to do is to see your doctor and share with them all of the lingering symptoms you are experiencing. These should include your brain fog and other neurologic symptoms, such as weakness, numbness, tingling, loss of smell or taste.
4. Poor nutrition
Poor nutrition can also contribute to brain fog. When we don't eat enough or eat unhealthy foods, our brain doesn't get the nutrients it needs to function properly. This can lead to a decrease in cognitive function, including difficulty with memory and concentration.
A healthy diet including fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, and whole grains has been proven to improve thinking, memory. and brain health.
5. Stress and anxiety
But possibly the most common culprits of sudden brain fog are stress and anxiety. When we experience stress, our body goes into "fight or flight" mode, which can lead to an increase in cortisol and adrenaline levels. This response is helpful in short bursts, but when stress is chronic and leads to anxiety, it can impair cognitive function and causes brain fog.
Besides taking regular breaks for self-care and treating yourself, many people choose to exercise the stress away because science shows that moving about releases a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor that makes it easier for brain cells and connections to grow. Even just a short walk can help clear your mind and improve concentration.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and at MyTreat, we're dedicated to providing helpful resources to those struggling with mental health issues. Through our blog, we aim to provide informative articles on various types of mental health problems and ways to overcome them. In addition, we offer monthly self-care subscription boxes designed to help you take care of yourself and prioritise your mental wellbeing. These boxes also make an excellent gift for someone who could use a little extra care and support.