We’ve all felt sluggish or fuzzy-headed at some point in our lives, but how do you know if it’s brain fog? Importantly, brain fog isn’t actually a medical term. It’s used to describe a set of symptoms related to cognitive difficulties – mainly the feeling of being mentally sluggish.
The symptoms are similar to lack of sleep or stress and can affect your memory and ability to function or focus on day-to-day tasks.
What causes brain fog?
There a number of health conditions and lifestyle factors that can cause brain fog, including:
- Lack of sleep
- Increased stress
- Certain medications
- Nutritional deficiencies like vitamin B12
- Underactive thyroid
Menopause, pregnancy and Covid-19 have also been linked to brain fog.
What are the symptoms of brain fog?
If you have brain fog, you may have difficulty with your cognitive function, like focusing on a task or idea, recalling things or following a conversation. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Poor concentration
- Feeling confused or disoriented
- Thinking more slowly
- Fuzzy thoughts
- Lost words
Brain fog can also cause overlapping symptoms with other physical and mental health conditions like headaches and mental exhaustion.
What does brain fog feel like?
As its name suggests, people often describe brain fog as if you’re living in a thick fog that interferes with what you think and do. You might feel that the fog is around you, inside your head or both. This fuzzy feeling can lead to other symptoms too, including problems communicating and a lack of energy.
You might notice that the feeling of brain fog resembles other mental and physical health conditions like depression or dementia, which is why it’s important to speak to a doctor if you’re concerned.
What’s the link between brain fog and menopause?
‘Menopause is a common cause of brain fog in women. Two of the main female hormones, oestrogen and testosterone, play an important role in your cognition and memory,’ says Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi.
‘When these hormone levels fall during perimenopause and menopause, this can lead to a range of symptoms, including confusion, memory loss and difficulty staying focused.’
‘The good news is that you can keep your brain healthy with simple lifestyle changes,’ says Dr Henderson. ‘Although menopause brain fog can be alarming, there’s no need to panic about these natural effects on the brain.’
Can Covid-19 cause brain fog?
‘Long Covid is another common cause of brain fog in both women and men,’ says Dr Henderson. ‘Many people have experienced brain fog while recovering from shorter episodes of Covid too.’
Experts still don’t fully understand why this might happen, but evidence has shown how long Covid can affect organs and tissues around the body. The symptoms of long Covid-related brain fog may vary over time.
‘Many people have experienced brain fog while recovering from shorter episodes of Covid, too,’ says Dr Henderson. If you’re worried about Covid-related brain fog, speak to a doctor.
How can I manage brain fog symptoms?
1. Slow things down
Take regular moments to stop and refocus during the day. If you’ve just taken in some new information, find a quiet moment to process what you’ve learned.
2. Manage your stress
Mindfulness and meditation can help you reduce stress and be more present. These strategies also help you absorb new information and recall it more easily.
3. Stay physically active
Physical activity benefits your mind as well as your body. Building a 20-minute walk into your day is a good place to start and an excuse to get some fresh air.
4. Prioritise your sleep
You can improve your sleep quality by sticking to a regular sleep routine. Avoiding caffeine and staying off electronic devices close to bedtime can help too.
5. Exercise your brain
Using visual clues and rhymes can help you recall important information. Repeating information out loud is another way to help your brain store information.
How can I support someone with brain fog?
‘There is lots of help available for those struggling with the disruption of brain fog,’ says Dr Henderson. If you know someone who is experiencing brain fog, here are some things you can do to help:
- Advise them to speak to a doctor about treatment options
- Encourage them to make lots of notes and take regular breaks
- Find a local support group about brain fog they can join
- Help them to remain focused by setting alarms and reminders
- If relevant, make adjustments to their work or learning environment
When should I speak to a doctor?
Experiencing brain fog occasionally is normal, especially when there is an obvious cause, like being overtired, jetlagged, under the weather or stressed. Usually, it will ease over time without treatment.
You should see a doctor if brain fog is preventing you from carrying out daily tasks or causing you distress – for example, if you’re forgetting to pay bills or how to get to familiar places.
You should also seek advice if lifestyle changes are not helping, your memory is getting steadily worse or your anxiety is becoming intense.
This article has been medically approved by Lead GP at Livi, Dr Bryony Henderson.