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14 Feb 2024

Identifying and Addressing Brain Fog

If you’re feeling sluggish and forgetful, easily distracted or completely overwhelmed by mundane tasks, you may be experiencing a common phenomenon known as brain fog.

Though it isn’t an official clinical diagnosis, brain fog can arise after several sleepless nights, while taking certain medications like antihistamines, during particularly stressful periods of life, or when undergoing big hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy or menopause, amongst many other things. In recent years, it has also become closely associated with the cognitive impairment many people experience during or after a bout with Covid-19. 

People can experience a range of difficulties with their thinking skills when experiencing brain fog, including feeling confused, disorganised, having memory problems, finding it hard to focus and having slower processing of information.

It is important to know that brain fog is neither progressive nor associated with declining intellect. However, it can be bewildering, and erode confidence, self-esteem and lead to low mood.


Self-Help Advice for Brain Fog

Here are some things you can do which may help you feel better:

  • Identify the source
    Identifying the causes of brain fog can help you figure out how to address it more effectively. Temporary sources of stress like a big project at work or childcare can contribute to mental fatigue and often be easy to identify – but if you’ve been dealing with anxiety or stress for a while, you might have a harder time recognising what’s affecting you.

  • Get more sleep
    Sleep deprivation can make it difficult to think clearly during the day. A night or two of less sleep than usual probably won’t have a long lasting impact, as long as you get enough sleep most nights.

    But if you regularly don’t get enough sleep, you’ll likely start to notice some negative consequences, including irritability, daytime sleepiness and difficulty concentrating.

    Learn more about the importance of sleep:
  • Eat and drink well
    Not eating enough or not getting the right nutrients, can make it difficult to focus.

    When you feel stressed, you might feel too tired to prepare balanced meals and turn to snacks or fast food instead. These foods typically don’t offer much in the way of energy boosting nutrients and might have the opposite effect, making you feel tired and lethargic.

    Foods high in antioxidants such as blueberries, oranges and nuts, help reduce oxidative stress in the body, which can have a positive effect on the brain and body. Adding leafy greens, wholegrains, lean proteins like fish and poultry can also help improve cognition.
    Taking care to stay hydrated can also help improve brain fog. Dehydration can affect your physical health, but it can also have negative consequences on your energy level, concentration and memory.

  • Do some exercise
    Physical activity has plenty of benefits, including improved cognition. You don’t need to hit the gym for an intense workout (though that can also help). A quick 15-minute walk before work or on your lunch break can often do the job.

    Read more about the benefits of exercise: 
  • Reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake
    Alcohol and caffeine are two common substances that can significantly contribute to the experience of brain fog. 

    Alcohol can disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to impaired cognitive functions, such as memory, concentration and decision-making. Although moderate consumption might not have long-lasting effects, excessive intake, particularly over a short period, can lead to a state colloquially known as "hangover brain fog," which is characterised by mental sluggishness and difficulty focusing. 

    On the other hand, caffeine, a stimulant found in coffee, tea and energy drinks, temporarily wards off drowsiness and increases alertness. However, overconsumption or withdrawal from caffeine can lead to rebound fatigue and a decrease in mental performance, thereby inducing brain fog.