Brain fog: the overlooked symptom of depression & anxiety

Brain fog is an often overlooked, yet very common, symptom of depression & anxiety and can have a profound impact on day-to-day life. It isn’t regarded as a medical term but is a good way of describing the way that depression and anxiety can impact memory and thinking.

Experiencing brain fog can be both frustrating and distressing, making functioning in everyday society tough. It can impact family life, work, and social interactions but can be hard to explain to others, especially if you are struggling to articulate how you are feeling.

Some common symptoms of brain fog are:

  • Forgetting words, or finding it hard to get your words out
  • Losing your train of thought or experiencing jumbled thoughts
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Find it hard to concentrate and focus
  • Feeling mentally sluggish
  • Unable to multi-task even previously simple tasks without feeling overwhelmed
  • Enter a room and forgetting what for
  • Feel spaced out, fuzzy headed and tired

What causes brain fog?

Brain fog can be caused by many different reasons, such as unidentified allergies, sensitivities or intolerances, hormonal or gut imbalances, poor blood sugar regulation and inflammation. Because these are often present in people experiencing mood dysregulation, I frequently investigate and address these as part of my one-to-one programmes.  

Brain fog can sometimes be a sign of other conditions too, and it is of course important to ensure that this is ruled out by your GP. However, one of the main underlying culprits of brain fog is chronic stress, a close relative and promoter of depression and anxiety.

Although stress is a normal part of life, it should ideally be transient and ultimately resolve. Exposure to prolonged, chronic stress can create a whole raft of unwanted chemicals and bodily processes which can negatively affect cognition and memory, ultimately leading to symptoms of brain fog.  

Chronic stress can:

  • directly impact the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in learning and memory.
  • lead to a hypervigilant state, rendering the brain to channel energy and resources into keeping us safe, side-lining memory and cognition processes which can lead to a lack of mental clarity.
  • lead to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in excess can be inflammatory and directly hinder how well the brain functions, leading to symptoms of brain fog.

Strategies to help with brain fog

Diet and lifestyle can have a huge impact on alleviating brain fog and the three main factors which can be addressed at home are:

  • Exercise – gentle exercise helps alleviate stress and improves blood flow to the brain, enhancing clarity and helping to lift brain fog. Aim to move your body for 30 minutes every day.
  • Quality sleep – sleep deprivation and fatigue directly impact cognition by slowing down brain function and hindering memory and focus. Aim for 7-9 hours a night. For more information and tips visit my blog: https://gemmabarnes.com/optimum-mental-health-step-2-rest/
  • Hydration – without ample hydration, your brain simply cannot work correctly and will begin to slow its function. Aim to drink 2 litres of water every day.

SIX FOODS TO HELP COMBAT BRAIN FOG

  1. Blueberries – blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, purple-blue-red pigmented antioxidant compounds which have been demonstrated to improve brain cell signalling in parts of the brain associated with memory. Other sources of anthocyanins include red cabbage, red onions, beetroots, blackberries, cherries & strawberries.
  2. Salmon – salmon is a rich source of omega 3 fats, which not only exert a powerful anti-inflammatory action but can also greatly improve how well brain cells communicate with each other, enhancing recall and focus. Other sources of omega 3s are flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, sardines & mackerel.
  3. Eggs – eggs are a rich source of choline, sometimes referred to as a B vitamin, which plays a role in enhancing memory and cognition. Other sources of choline include beef, liver, chicken, tofu, and cruciferous vegetables.
  4. Celery – celery is a good source of luteolin, a plant compound possessing antioxidant and neuroprotective qualities. which can be beneficial for memory and brain fog. Other sources include parsley, broccoli, green peppers, chicory, and radicchio.
  5. Avocado – avocados are a rich source of healthy fats which are excellent at helping to maintain a steady supply of glucose to the brain enabling it to function optimally. They also contain lutein, an antioxidant compound which has shown potential in improving memory and clarity. Other sources of lutein include leafy greens, lettuce, broccoli, green peas, kiwi, and honeydew melon.
  6. Kale – kale is a good source of magnesium which has been shown to improve nerve cell transmission and ultimately memory, focus and cognition. Magnesium is also known as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ due to its calming effects and can therefore help to reduce stress too. Other sources of magnesium are cocoa, nuts, legumes, brown rice, and seafood.

I hope that helps!

I specialise in personalised & evidence-based one-to-one programmes which focus on identifying the root causes of low mood & anxiety, pulling together the nutrition and lifestyle changes that make a HUGE difference – helping you feel calmer, happier, and more optimistic.

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