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Do I have Brain Fog From Anxiety?

    Brain Fog From Anxiety

    What is brain fog from anxiety? Brain fog is a frustrating phenomenon characterized by an inability to focus, slow thinking, poor memory, and/or feeling mentally hazy. Some people describe it as feeling “like I’m in a cloud” or have “fuzzy thinking”. It can make it hard to accomplish even the simplest of tasks.  Even harder is accomplishing a 40 hour work week or be able to take care of your family.  

    Brain fog is not a condition but rather a symptom of something else going on. It can be a side effect of many things.  Some of these could be chemotherapy, hormonal imbalances, lack of sleep, nutritional deficiencies, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune conditions, or anxiety. No matter the cause, it can be tough to navigate alone.   

    Brain fog and anxiety 

    Brain fog is commonly reported in those with anxiety. The dynamic between anxiety and brain fog is tricky as anxiety can lead to brain fog and vice versa. 

    If you are experiencing anxiety, especially for a prolonged amount of time, your brain can become mentally exhausted from the worrying.  Its also exhausted from the complex cascade of stress hormones circulating through it. This mental exhaustion can present as brain fog. 

    And in the reverse, if you’re experiencing brain fog it can lead you to not be as productive or fall behind on your to-do list. This in turn can increase anxiety, which is why the brain fog-anxiety dynamic can be a continual cycle you feel stuck in. 

    What is actually happening in the brain when we experience brain fog and anxiety?

    Brain fog from anxiety can be caused by something called mental fatigue. Mental fatigue is the result of the constant worrying of anxiety accompanied by continual surges of cortisol, dopamine, and oxytocin. 

    Those three chemicals are activated under stress and are healthy in normal amounts.  However, experiencing anxiety can consistently keep high amounts of them present in the brain. High levels of cortisol have been shown to inhibit functioning of the prefrontal cortex.  This is the region of the brain that is responsible for cognitive functions like decision making, attention span, and social behaviors. Increased dopamine levels can contribute to anxiety and cause difficulty sleeping. 

    Surges of those three compounds coupled with constant worried thoughts can wear the brain out, making you feel less sharp. 

    How to help brain fog 

    Fortunately, there are several ways to support yourself when experiencing anxiety induced brain fog. 

    Self-assessment 

    Something that can be helpful is tuning into your body. Try to figure out what exactly is making you feel anxious. If you can pinpoint something specific that is causing anxiety, see if there is anything you can do to help process the emotions surrounding that.  Perhaps see if there are any small actions you can take to help improve the situation. 

    Rest, hydration, and adequate nutrition 

    Make sure you’re taking care of yourself with proper rest, hydration, and nutrition. 

    Sleep deprivation is one of the main causes of brain fog. A recent study showed that sleep deprivation inhibits your neurons (nerve cells) from communicating properly with one another. This means that without adequate sleep, your brain cells have trouble translating visual input into conscious thought. This explains why mental tasks like reading or paying attention to what’s going on around you can feel impossible with brain fog. 

    Hydration is also important to ward off brain fog. The brain is made up of 75% water, and dehydration can actually slightly shrink the brain and alter cognitive performance. It’s important to make sure you’re getting enough fluids in each day.  Recommended is about 16 cups a day for men and 12 cups a day for women. 

    Adequate nutrition is also important to keep the brain sharp. A common nutrient deficiency associated with brain fog is vitamin B-12. B-12 is known to support healthy brain and nerve function.  It also contributes to helping improve mood, supporting bone health, and producing red blood cells. Foods rich in vitamin B-12 are milk, eggs, fish, yogurt, and meat.  Make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of this nutrient in your diet for optimal brain health. 

    Stress management        

    As previously mentioned, stress and anxiety go hand in hand with brain fog. To combat stress, there are lots of things you can do to lighten the load a little bit. 

    Physical movement like walking, working out, dancing, or running are a great way to release pent up energy in your body. Any way you can get moving can help- even if it’s something small like going for a walk around the block. 

    Reaching out for support is also a great way to decrease stress. Sometimes calling a friend or loved one and talking about how you feel can get it off your chest and allow you to feel better. Journaling is another great option if you don’t want to call someone but still want to express your emotions. 

    Relaxation is another important component of stress and anxiety management. Sometimes the last thing we feel like doing when we’re anxious is slowing down. However, it’s important to let our mind rest and reset itself, especially if you’ve gotten to the point where anxiety has led to brain fog. That is a sign the brain is over-loaded and needs a break.

    Key Takeaways on Brain Fog from Anxiety

    Brain fog is not fun to experience, especially when it causes even more anxiety and inhibits your ability to get things done or enjoy the day. It can be a negative byproduct of mental fatigue.  This is when consistent anxious thoughts and the stress hormones that accompany anxiety overwhelm the brain, leading to decreased executive functioning. 

    Brain fog can also be a sign that something else is going on; make sure you’re getting adequate sleep, fuel (water + food), and managing stress levels. If brain fog persists, it’s important to go see a doctor to find out what might be going on and find a solution.

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