Why you can get brain fog and how to handle the haze
You know in the movies when there’s an explosion, then all you hear is a few seconds of stunned silence. Time seems to slow as the main character freezes. That’s what brain fog can feel like for some people – except that sensation of stunned silence can last for hours, not seconds.
Other people have described brain fog as feeling like they have a head full of sand. No matter how you experience it, you’re not alone in feeling brain fog.
Psychologist, Dr Bronwyn Coward, discusses why you can get brain fog and how to handle it.
What is brain fog?
Brain fog is not a medical term or a diagnosable condition, explains Dr Bronwyn.
“It’s a term that a lot of people use to describe a feeling of sluggishness. They might be thinking slower than usual or having trouble concentrating and feeling hazy.”
She says that most people have experienced brain fog at some point in their lives, like if they’ve been jet lagged. But Dr Bronwyn says there are other possible reasons behind your brain fog.
Why you might be getting brain fog
It’s worth investigating why you might be feeling brain fog as many different things can cause it. And how long brain fog lasts depends on the cause. We recommend you head along to your GP if you are concerned.
Some people find that they experience brain fog in the morning after a bad night’s sleep. Tiredness and brain fog may go hand in hand, with tiredness a potential symptom of changes in blood sugar levels. Brain fog may even be related to having low iron levels in some cases.
Dr Bronwyn says, in her experience, that brain fog may also happen when:
- your body needs to rest
- your body is fighting an infection
- there’s a lot of stress in your life
- you’re experiencing low mood
- you have an underlying medical condition
- you’re not getting enough quality sleep
- you might need to incorporate healthier foods into your diet (including those foods good for brain health)
- you may be drinking too much alcohol, which we know has other adverse effects on our health too
How to avoid brain fog
Some brain fog prevention techniques that Dr Bronwyn recommends trying include:
Build healthy habits
Healthy lifestyle habits can play a role in preventing brain fog, says Dr Bronwyn.
“Doing regular exercise, eating healthier foods (including healthy brain foods), getting outside every day, prioritising a good night’s sleep and staying connected with your social networks may help to prevent brain fog.”
Give your brain a rest
One way to give your brain a rest is to take breaks from your smartphone.
“Every couple of hours, try turning off your phone for five or ten minutes,” says Dr Bronwyn.
She also recommends taking some time out between meetings and video conferencing calls. This can not only help to reduce stress-induced brain fog but also supports having a healthy work life balance.
Ditch the multitasking
Tackling one thing at a time instead of trying to everything might make a difference in brain fog prevention.
“It turns out that we're actually not that productive when we multitask. So try to do just one thing at a time,” Dr Bronwyn says.
Finding your way through the brain fog haze
Dr Bronwyn says it’s about getting back to health basics.
“Make sure that you’re having three square meals a day, you’re drinking enough water, sleeping well and really prioritising self care to help get back on track.”
Making time for self care can be difficult when your to-do list is overflowing. Try using a work life balance planner to help get everything organised, including some time for self care.
Brain fog is a real thing
While it’s not an official medical condition, brain fog is a real sensation. Being in the fog with what feels like a head full of sand is a common experience for many people. Healthier lifestyle habits and practising self care may help prevent, and assist you through, the brain fog cloud.
It’s important to remember that brain fog has many causes. And it’s worth investigating further with your GP – especially if it’s prolonged or significantly impacting your daily life.
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Dr Bronwyn Coward is a registered Psychologist, an endorsed Clinical Neuropsychologist and an AHPRA board-approved supervisor who draws on over a decade of experience to bring solution-based assessments to her clients.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board August 2021.