Brain fog, foggy head is often described as:
- Your head, mind, and brain feel foggy or like in a fog.
- It feels like you have a foggy head, foggy mind.
- You have difficulty thinking, concentrating, and/or forming thoughts.
- Your thinking feels like it is muddled and impaired.
- Some people describe this symptom as being “foggy-headed” or having a “foggy head.”
- It seems as if your thoughts are illusive, and things that you once knew seem hard to comprehend or recall.
- It feels like your short-term memory isn’t as good as it used to be.
- It feels like normal intellectual tasks seem much more difficult.
- You find it hard to focus and concentrate.
- You are more forgetful (forget things that you normally wouldn’t).
- You have difficulty focusing on and carrying on conversations.
- Your thoughts seem like in a cloud.
- Your thinking isn’t as clear as it normally is.
- Your head feels foggy, clouded, muddled, and ‘off.’
- Brain fog, foggy head can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel foggy headed once in a while and not that often, feel it off and on, or feel it all the time.
- Brain fog, foggy head may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
- Brain fog, foggy head can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.
- Brain fog, foggy head can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.
- Brain fog, foggy head can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.
- All of the above combinations and variations are common.
What causes brain fog, foggy head?
Because there are many medical conditions that can cause brain fog, it’s best to discuss this symptom with your doctor. If your doctor attributes your brain fog, foggy head to anxiety, you can feel assured that there isn’t a medical cause.
There are a number of reasons why brain fog and foggy head symptoms occur. Here are five:
- An active stress response suppresses the rationalization areas of the brain (the cortex) and increases the areas of the brain reactive to danger (the amygdala and others). This change in brain functioning makes us more aware of danger and increases our reaction to it. While this change is beneficial when in real danger, it can become a problem when the stress response is activated too frequently and/or dramatically, such as when being overly anxious. This change in brain functioning can come across as ‘brain fog or foggy head.’
- High levels of stress hormones (caused from worry, stress, fear, anger, frustration, and anxiety), because they are stimulants, cause an increase in the electrical activity in the brain. Increased electrical activity in the brain causes the brain to generate an increase in thought generation and at a faster rate. This change can cause our attention to be more easily sidetracked, which can cause split attention and focus making it seem like our thoughts are foggy.
- Persistent anxiousness and its stress response consequences can cause persistent brain function changes. As we mentioned in point one, stress hormones suppress the rationalization areas of the brain (the cortex) and increase the activity in the fear center of the brain (the amygdala). This combination reduces the ability to logically rationalize and process information while at the same time increases the awareness of danger, fear, apprehension, gloom and doom – many describe anxiety as a sense of sudden or ongoing foreboding and doom. The more anxious we are, the more persistent these changes become. Persistent anxiousness can cause persistent brain fog and foggy head.
- Stress responses also suppress the hippocampus – the learning and memory area of the brain. As the body’s stress elevates, the suppression it causes can make it more difficult for the brain to store and retrieve information.
- Elevated stress taxes the body’s resources harder and faster than normal, causing it to become tired more quickly. When the body becomes tired, it has a harder time functioning normally, including processing, storing, and retrieving information.
As well, studies have shown that the brain tires more quickly than the rest of the body. An exhausted brain loses its ability to think, remember, and reason sooner than the body fatigues. That’s why when we’re tired, we don’t think as well as when we’re not tired.
These are just five of the many factors associated with stress (including the stress caused by being anxious) and how it can negatively affect our concentration and short-term memory.
Another consideration is that those who experience entrenched anxiety commonly develop a habit of being internally focused (ruminating about their health, how they feel, the implications of anxiety disorder and how that might affect their future, concerns about their recovery, questions about recovery, what others will think, how their struggle may affect their loved ones, and so on).
When they become internally focused, they are easily distracted by all of their “what if” thinking. It’s also common for them to become so obsessed with trying to figure out their condition that everything else takes a back seat, including their attention and focus on the external parts of their lives.
Internally focused and “what if” thinking can become so habituated and automatic that many sufferers aren’t even aware that they are doing it.
Unfortunately when short-term memory and concentration problems occur, many become frightened and think that they may be losing their mind, think that they may be on the verge of a complete mental breakdown, or think that their brain fog is an indication of a serious mental or biological illness. These anxieties can add even more stress to an already stress-response hyperstimulated body.
How to get rid of brain fog, foggy head?
When brain fog and foggy head are caused by an active stress response, calming yourself down and containing your anxious behavior will bring an end to the active stress response. As the active stress response ends, it will bring an end to the stress response changes and their effects, including having brain fog and foggy head.
When brain fog and foggy head are caused by persistently elevated stress (stress-response hyperstimulation), such as that from behaving overly apprehensively (anxiety), working to reduce your body’s stress, containing your anxious behavior, and giving your body ample time to respond will bring an end to symptoms of hyperstimulation…in time. As your body recovers from hyperstimulation, all stress-caused symptoms diminish and eventually subside, including brain fog and foggy head.
Because brain fog is a common symptom of anxiety and persistently elevated stress, it needn’t be a cause for concern. It will completely disappear when the body’s stress has returned to a healthy level.
Yes, brain fog and foggy head can be uncomfortable and problematic as it pertains to thinking. But, they aren’t harmful. Again, brain fog and foggy head are common indications of an overly stressed body. Nothing more. Eliminating your body’s overly stressed state will eliminate the brain fog and foggy head symptoms in time.
Unfortunately, there generally aren’t any quick-fix cures for this symptom. Eliminating it requires ending an active stress response and/or eliminating your body’s overly stressed state. But as with all sensations and symptoms of stress (including the stress caused by behaving overly anxiously), they fully disappear when the body’s stress is reduced to a normal level and the body has had sufficient time to recover.
Chapter 4 in the Recovery Support area provides a list of natural and practical ways to reduce stress and give your body what it needs to recover.
Chapter 9 in the Recovery Support area is our ‘Symptoms’ chapter. It contains every symptom associated with anxiety, along with in depth descriptions, explanations, remedies on how to eliminate them, and the percentage of people who experience each symptom.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach, counselor, or therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior – a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety’s underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.