What Is Brain Fog and How Does It Relate to Mental Illness?

Understanding brain fog, its causes, and how it relates to mental illness can help you better understand the relationship between brain health, mental capacity, and emotional well-being.

Experiencing brain fog can make you feel like you’re lost in a maze. You might feel confused, alone, frustrated, disoriented, bewildered, unclear, and adrift. Brain fog can also affect your emotional well-being. Being unable to think clearly may make you feel powerless, irritable, and downcast. Constantly feeling this way can put a damper on your mental health. Having a mental illness can trigger brain fog, as can other conditions. Understanding brain fog, its causes, and how it relates to mental illness can help you better understand the relationship between brain health, mental capacity, and emotional well-being.

What Is Brain Fog?

Brain fog isn’t a specific medical condition. Instead, brain fog is an “extremely common term used to describe changes that have occurred in the brain function over a period of time,” Dr. Christopher Calapai explained. “A decrease in focus, concentration, memory, alertness, and word retrieval are all part of the description of ‘brain fog.’” Basically, brain fog happens when your brain doesn’t serve you as well as it can.

Also known as “mental fatigue,” brain fog is a symptom of cognitive dysfunction. The type of cognitive decline caused by brain fog can vary from person to person, but typically, brain fog causes one or more of the following challenges:

  • Memory problems
  • Lack of mental clarity
  • Poor concentration
  • Inability to focus

Other symptoms of brain fog can include:

  • Headaches
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Low energy
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Emotional detachment or an inability to connect with others emotionally

More often than not, these challenges can interfere with your daily life.

Despite what you may think, there isn’t a connection between brain fog and age. Teens, adolescents, and young adults can experience brain fog while healthy elderly adults can have strong cognitive ability and sharp thinking. When your brain is healthy, you can age with your cognitive functionality intact. Even though the brain does age, well-nourished brains can avoid most signs of cognitive decline. Malnourished brains, on the other hand, experience mental fatigue.

Common Causes of Brain Fog

The causes of brain fog can be as diverse as the symptoms. But luckily, many of the causes of brain fog can be reduced with lifestyle changes, medication, or professional counseling.

Some of the most common causes of brain fog include:

  • Sleep deprivation. When you don’t get enough sleep, you may feel a little bewildered and have trouble concentrating. Poor sleep can also make the brain tired, which can make thinking clearly difficult.
  • Stress. Like poor quality sleep, prolonged stress can also exhaust the brain. When your mind is tired, thinking, reasoning, and focusing become difficult. Additionally, chronic stress can increase blood pressure, weaken your immune system, and trigger depression.
  • Hormonal changes. Hormonal changes can have a significant impact on your memory and ability to think clearly. When estrogen and progesterone increase during pregnancy, many women experience “pregnancy brain,” which can make remembering details, focusing on tasks, and concentrating hard to do. Menopause, which causes estrogen levels to drop, can also cause forgetfulness, poor concentration, and cloudy thinking.
  • Diet. The brain needs energy, proper nutrition, iron, and vitamin B-12 to function optimally. A poor diet and low B-12 levels can cause memory loss and hazy thoughts.
  • Physical inactivity. The brain and body work together. When your physical activity slows, activity in the brain also slows, which can lead to symptoms associated with brain fog.
  • Medication and certain medical conditions. Occasionally, medication can cause brain fog as a side effect. If you suspect this, talk with your doctor. They may be able to lower your dosage or switch out your medication. Medical conditions that cause inflammation, fatigue, or changes in blood glucose levels can also cause mental fatigue. Some of these conditions include anemia, depression, fibromyalgia, diabetes, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, migraines, arthritis, hypothyroidism, and diabetes.

Scientists have also discovered a few connections between mental illness and brain fog.

Brain Fog and Mental Illness

How you feel and think are intricately connected to the health of your brain. As such, mental illness can increase your risk of brain fog. Similarly, living with cloudy thoughts and an inability to focus and concentrate can also increase your risk of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and other mental health conditions. Scientists continue to study the links between brain fog and mental illness, but they have discovered that:

Mental Illness Can Interfere With Brain Functionality

By definition, mental illness is any condition that affects your mood, thinking, and behavior. One of the main symptoms of brain fog is an inability to think clearly. As mental health conditions develop, brain function changes. These changes prevent the brain from working as well as it should, which often leads to brain fog. In fact, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia can affect the brain in ways that lead to brain fog.

Mental Illness and Brain Fog Can Have Similar Causes

Mental illness and brain fog can be triggered by some of the same causes: lack of sleep, poor diet, unregulated stress, and hormonal and biochemical imbalances. Some scientists believe these similar causes may demonstrate a link between brain fog and mental illness.

Mental Illness and Brain Fog Are Associated with Brain Inflammation

Brain inflammation is a common thread in both mental illness and brain fog. In most cases, brain states that produce mental illness also tend to activate inflammation. Likewise, inflammatory responses in the brain can cause depression, anxiety, fatigue, and social withdrawal. Ironically, the same inflammatory responses typically manifest in the brain as brain fog. Inflammation in the brain hinders the production of neurons, making neural communication difficult. This is what causes the brain to slow down which triggers forgetfulness, lack of concentration, and dull thinking.

Ways To Prevent, Treat, and Overcome Brain Fog

The type of treatment that brain fog requires depends on the cause. Brain fog caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, for example, can be treated by taking a B12 supplement and eating foods high in vitamin B. Brain fog caused by anemia can be treated with iron supplements that can help increase your production of red blood cells. Lifestyle changes can also help treat brain fog.

Some of the lifestyle changes used to prevent, treat, and overcome brain fog include:

  • Getting enough sleep. While we rest, the brain and body clear out unhealthy toxins that can contribute to brain fog. When we don’t get enough sleep, a certain amount of toxins are left in the brain, increasing our risk of brain fog. That’s why we need to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Following a fixed sleep schedule and avoiding electronic devices such as cell phones, laptops, and televisions right before we go to bed can help ensure we get an adequate amount of sleep and prevent brain fog.
  • Avoiding multitasking. Trying to do more than one task at the same time drains energy and decreases productivity. This is especially true if both activities require conscious thought. Because of this, multitasking can lead to poor concentration, or an inability to focus on one particular task. Working on one task at a time can help lessen multitask-induced brain fog.
  • Trying new things. Participating in mentally stimulating activities can help increase the production of norepinephrine, a brain chemical that stimulates the brain. When we listen to different music, try a different approach to tasks, or take a different route to work, norepinephrine helps jolt the mind out of its sluggish state, helping combat brain fog. Treating our brain like a muscle by exercising it can stimulate brain cells which can help combat clouded thinking and other symptoms of brain fog.
  • Feeding the brain a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. The brain is made up of fat and protein. So our diets need to include a good amount of both. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and coenzyme Q10 help boost the body’s energy levels which also helps to stimulate the brain.

Other lifestyle changes that can help reduce brain include:

  • Taking mental breaks throughout the day
  • Staying socially active, which helps improve mood, memory, and cognition
  • Finding healthy ways to cope with high levels of stress.
  • Participating in mind-body relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and emotional freedom technique
  • Engaging in deep thought. This can be as simple as reading an article and spending 10 minutes mulling over the content in the article.
  • Meditating, which helps relax the brain
  • Exercising regularly, which improves and enhances our mental health
  • Following the Mediterranean or a similar diet that helps with memory, cognition, and brain health
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs which negatively affect the brain

Healthy Brains Equal Healthy Lives

Mental clarity is an essential aspect of a thriving, balanced, productive, and enjoyable life. Brain fog hinders mental clarity and can negatively affect your quality of life. But there’s hope. Talking to your doctor or a counselor, understanding the root cause of your brain fog, and making some lifestyle changes can help you say goodbye to brain fog for good.

Here at StoneRidge Centers, we believe that healthy brains help us live thriving, healthy lives. Our comprehensive treatment plans can help restore your brain to health. Let us help you get there. Contact us today if you’re ready to overcome brain fog and live a healthy, happy, thriving, and purpose-filled life.

Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies

Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.

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Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
This low-impact magnetic stimulation activates neurons inside the brain, relieving symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.

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qEEG/Brain Mapping
Using brain scanning and readings, we create a map of our patients' brains, helping us develop more targeted and effective treatments.

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Neurofeedback
This process assists patients in visualizing their own brain functionality through continuous EEG readings.

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Spravato Therapy
We use carefully monitored doses of Spravato to help patients struggling with complex mental health disorders, including severe depression.

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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Patients use this practice to help reframe intrusive or negative thought patterns and develop coping techniques for long-term recovery.

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Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This practice helps patients learn to regulate emotions, communicate more effectively, and process their own thoughts and feelings..

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Eye Movement Desensitization (EMDR)
Licensed and trained therapists guide patients through this technique for managing stress and anxiety on an ongoing basis.

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Individual Therapy
Patients experience one-on-one therapy sessions with a licensed therapist to provide a safe and private place to recover and heal.

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Group/Family Therapy
Patients can practice the skills and techniques they have learned in treatment with others in a safe, therapist-guided space. .
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