When brain fog sets in, accomplishing even a small task such as writing a grocery list or writing a letter can seem insurmountable. Brain fog makes it difficult for us to think quickly, remember things, and in some cases even hold a conversation. Most people report feeling spaced out, mentally slow, and as if they are experiencing significant fatigue. It’s called brain “fog” because it literally feels like there is nothing but cloudiness when trying to think.
There are many brain fog causes such as: neurodegenerative diseases, mental illnesses, and various medications. Unfortunately in some cases such as when a person has Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia, the brain “fog” can be irreversible. In other cases such those resulting from lack of sleep or depression, correcting the problem will usually improve an individual’s cognition. For further information on correcting cloudy thinking, be sure to read how to get rid of brain fog.
Brain Fog Symptoms
In many cases a variety of factors such as: daily habits (lifestyle), medications, and illnesses can all contribute to brain fog. Below is a list of symptoms that people commonly report during their experience of fogginess. Understand that you may not experience everything symptom listed below and that degree of impairment will be based on the individual.
Communication difficulties: It is commonly reported that people have difficulties expressing their thoughts both verbally and in writing during times of brain fog. Sure, most people will not lose their ability to communicate, but they may pause mid-conversation trying to think of a word or trying to “think” of what they were trying to say. It’s almost as if their brain isn’t primed enough to express its thoughts.
- Speaking (Verbal): You may notice that holding a conversation doesn’t seem to come as naturally. Prior to your experience of brain fog, expressing yourself may have been natural and easy. Now it may be difficult to decide what word to use, what sounds good in a sentence, and/or you may be completely drawing a blank with what you’re trying to say. It can become very difficult to properly verbalize the thoughts or message the way you intended. Additionally, you may notice that you think of words, but then your brain spits out something completely different than you initially intended to say; this can be frustrating.
- Writing: You may try to write something for school or work and realize that you can’t think of a damn thing. It’s almost like trying to pull words out of a hat that has no words. You are scrambling to think of something unique to say, but nothing is on your mind. The only thing your brain is filled with at this point is a thick cloud of fog. Many writer’s report experiencing “writer’s block” – this is very common when the cognition is “fogged.”
Concentration problems: A hallmark of brain fog is an inability to concentrate on cognitively demanding tasks. For example, if you are in school, it may be tougher than normal to focus on taking a test. You may see the questions, but may be thinking about a song you heard earlier in the day. No matter what you do or how hard you try to focus, it’s extremely difficult. Another example would be getting assigned a big project at work and not even knowing how to start.
Decreased productivity: Most people notice a pretty steep decline in productivity when brain fog sets in. This because our psychomotor activity slows, and in some cases, dopamine production can decline. This makes it tougher to think critically and perform tasks that require a significant degree of thought. This is commonly reported when people quit taking a psychostimulant medication and notice a “crash.” (Read: Adderall Crash for more information). In some cases, the productivity may cost a person their job or result in poor test-performance at school.
Decision-making: Without brain fog, it is easy for people to weigh the pros and cons of a situation and make an educated decision. When the fog sets in, it may be difficult to decide between getting a chicken sandwich or having a burger for dinner. Even seemingly simple decisions such as deciding what to eat become an extreme dilemma. Foggy thinking can result in slight impairment of decision-making.
Depression: Although brain fog can be a symptom of depression, vice-versa also applies. In other words, the brain fog can actually lead a person to become depressed. People that are unable to make sound decisions, think clearly, hold logical conversations, and aren’t productive, are likely going to feel pretty depressed as a result. No matter how hard a person tries, they may be noticeably “slower” than others when it comes to mental performance; this can lead to depression.
Disorganized thinking: In some cases, a person’s thinking becomes erratic and very disorganized. Thoughts may be sporadic as and a person may have difficulty staying on topic during a conversation. In other words, when talking about a baseball game, a person’s thinking may shift to something completely random – and they will not be able to stay on track. This is usually most prominently noted in cases of disorganized schizophrenia.
Distraction: While working on a task or doing anything, a person with brain fog can become easily distracted. For example, if you are writing a paper, you may write two sentences, then check Facebook, then start listening to music, then start dancing, then start dinner, and dread returning to the writing. It is thought to be even easier to become distracted during any cognitively demanding tasks such as solving math problems, puzzles, or writing.
Drowsiness: For some individuals, dealing with brain fog can result in drowsiness. Obviously there will be different causes of the fog, but for many individuals it can be normal to feel very drowsy when the fog is at its peak. In fact, you may just want to take a nap instead of even try to consciously think.
Errors: When performing certain tasks, you may notice that you make more mistakes than usual. This is especially common in technical work and/or any work requiring a high level of mental focus. If brain fog suddenly sets in and you are getting more questions incorrect on tests, are making mathematical errors, or grammatical errors, this could be a result of the fog.
Fatigue: Brain fog often goes hand in hand with feelings of fatigue. When you become fatigued, both physical and mental functions become increasingly difficult. Although brain fog doesn’t necessarily always cause a person to feel fatigued, they are often complementary sides of the same condition. Increased brain fog can lead to increased fatigue and vice versa.
Forgetfulness: You may notice that you forget things more often when you have brain fog. You may forget to show up for meetings or appointments. You may forget when it’s someone’s birthday or you may forget where you put your car keys that you recently had. Brain fog usually involves slower thinking, which can lead us to forget things we’d normally have an easier time remembering.
Impaired cognition: As a whole, your cognition is likely to become impaired during the fog. The extent to which you experience impaired cognitive functions can range between minor impairment and severe impairment. Although you may still be able to read, write, perform math, and communicate, you may notice that your abilities have declined. During times of impaired cognition, it may be especially difficult to write a paper, organize thoughts for a speech, or start a project.
Inability to think critically: Critical thinking is important because it helps us make good decisions. As was already mentioned, your ability to make decisions often suffers as a result of brain fog. Another similar component to the decision making process that gets affected by brain fog is that of critical thinking. You may notice that you aren’t able to learn from experiences, share insights, or make critical points (especially during debates).
Inattentiveness: An obvious characteristic of brain fog is inattentiveness. This is a common indication of ADHD, but people can exhibit inattentiveness without a disorder. There are other types of ADHD in which inattentiveness is not as big of a problem. Usually when a person experiences brain fog, it can become extremely difficult to stay focused in school, pay attention during a conversation, and comprehend new information.
Learning difficulties: In some cases, brain fog becomes evident when a person has a tough time learning new things. Usually learning disabilities can cause brain fog, but the fog can also make it significantly tougher to learn new information. A person may notice that their intelligence declines until they address the fog.
Lethargy: Another commonly reported symptom of brain fog is that of lethargy. Every move you make, your body may feel heavy and tired. The brain fog can make you think cloudy, and makes people tired and “slow.” All of these feelings are associated with lethargy, which is why this is considered a common symptom.
Low energy: Most people notice that their energy experiences a major drop when brain fog becomes bad. You may lack the energy to go to the gym or even get simple things done around the house. When your energy takes a hit and you can’t think clearly, this can be detrimental to all areas of life.
Memory problems: The onset of brain fog may result in significant memory impairment and other problems. You may have a difficult time forming new memories, making it tougher to learn new things. It may also be difficult to recall long-term memories – you may feel as if you cannot remember anything.
- Formation: Depending on what is causing your brain fog, you may have a tough time forming new memories. This can affect our ability to learn because we may hear or observe new information, but it doesn’t “sink in” to our memory. This is often called “encoding” or allowing new memories to be created.
- Impairment: Some people describe their memory as being impaired by the fog. Once the fog goes away, the impairment generally improves. However if left unaddressed, the impairment may escalate and become even more difficult to deal with.
- Long-term: It can be tougher to form and retrieve long-term memories when necessary. If you notice that your long term memory has taken a turn for the worse, it could be because of the fog you are experiencing.
- Retrieval: When trying to retrieve a particular memory, you may have a tough time. For example, you may have been able to easily remember something in the past, and all of a sudden you have difficulty recalling those memories.
- Short-term: Even your short-term memory can suffer during brain fog. If the fog is being caused by neurodegeneration or a neurological condition, short-term memory is likely to suffer.
- Storage: The amount of memories we can store can become reduced. Although the fog may simply be affecting retrieval for certain people, among others it can affect the storage process. Therefore certain memories may not get stored or storage may become limited.
Performance decline: You may notice your performance in all aspects of life decline. School work may seem more difficult, your tests may seem tougher than they actually are, and your grades could suffer. At work you may have a tough time finishing your normal workload and may become increasingly stressed as a result of your inability to think quickly. Socially your ability to hold logical conversations can also suffer.
Poor rationalization: During conversations and/or while trying to prove a point, you may lack the ability to properly rationalize. Your brain may feel so foggy, that you can’t even attempt to rationalize your decisions. This is especially common while partaking in a debate – you may not be able to logically gather facts to “rationalize” your point or situation.
Procrastination: Since your brain isn’t working as quickly or efficiently as it used to, you may procrastinate work that is mentally draining. Instead of finishing something in “one take” such as writing a paper from start to finish, you may write one paragraph, take a long break, then write another. In other words, you are less productive, and you are putting off important tasks because it’s simply too difficult to think clearly.
Psychomotor slowing: Do you notice that it takes significantly longer for you to complete tasks? Do you feel as if your brain speed is stuck in the slowest possible gear? If so, you may experience what is known as psychomotor slowing. This involves slowed brain waves (i.e. lack of beta waves) and performing tasks at a lower rate than usual.
- Moving: You may move extremely slowly and feel lethargic. Your movement may appear lifeless and lacking energy.
- Talking: During conversations you may forget words, forget what you were going to say, and have a difficult time being spontaneous. You also may have a difficult time processing what another person is communicating.
- Thinking: Mental acuity and thought speed usually takes a hit during brain fog. It may take you much longer to think of a solution or be mentally “primed” in certain situations.
Social decline: Some people notice that their social skills decline during times of brain fog. Sometimes the fog becomes so severe that you may have a difficult time thinking of the correct words to use while speaking. This can create a lot of social anxiety and ultimately result in withdrawal and/or isolation from social events.
Sleepiness: You may not only feel fatigued, but you may feel very sleepy all the time. Excessive sleepiness is referred to as hypersomnia, and is associated with brain fog. Usually the amount of sleep you get will influence the severity of the fog you experience. Getting sufficient sleep to restore the brain can be helpful, but excess sleep can actually make brain fog worse.
Slow-witted: Some people experience such slow thinking that they can barely think of a response to basic questions. People who are quick-witted usually have the exact opposite of brain fog; they essentially have clear skies with all sunshine. If you feel “slow-witted,” realize that this is what people with brain fog often experience because it takes them much longer to process information.
Spaced-out: You may notice that your mind randomly goes blank, even when you need it to be focused and primed for a task. For example, you may be explaining something to a friend and mid-sentence or mid-paragraph, you totally forget what you were going to say. In other cases, you may start working on something and turn away from your work in almost a “trance-like” daydream. Frequent daydreams and feeling “spaced out” are characteristics of psychomotor slowing and brain fog.
Tiredness: If you feel tired all the time, this can affect your energy levels and brain activity. When people are tired, their brain fog tends to be worse than when they feel awake and alert. Feeling tired can be frustrating because not only will you have less physical energy, but the brain fog makes it difficult to get things done. You may be so tired that you just sit around the house all day and accomplish nothing.
Managing symptoms of brain fog…
It is up to you to determine what works best to help you manage your symptoms of brain fog. If you know that the fog will only be temporary, such as in the case of sleep deprivation, then you don’t have to worry as much. But if you were diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder that is causing your brain fog to worsen over time, you may need to pursue some sort of pharmaceutical intervention.
Understand that dealing with brain fog can be extremely frustrating, but it’s something that many people experience. In most cases, the fog is not permanent, and most people eventually are able to find a solution. Whether the solution involves a pharmaceutical drug, supplements, exercise, meditation, or some sort of cognitive training, most people will end up clearing the fog that has temporarily invaded their brain.
Nearly everyone experiences an occasional “fog” that can cause temporary difficulties. It is when the fog becomes so severe that it affects a person’s work performance, school performance, communication skills, and/or overall wellbeing that it becomes a problem. Have you experienced any brain fog symptoms? If so, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.