Can Anxiety Cause Brain Fog?

Anxiety can cause brain fog due to the hormones released in our brain when we feel anxious.

Brain fog is that feeling where you don’t mentally feel yourself. Just like anxiety, the feelings can come and go in waves, can occur infrequently or persistently, and can happen at any age. It can range in intensity from slight to moderate to severe at times.

Why Do We Get Anxious?

Anxiety is an evolutionary response designed to protect us from danger and has evolved over millions of years to help ensure our survival. This automatic response is fast, decisive and effective when faced with an extreme threat, and takes place outside of our conscious awareness.

Think of it like a smoke alarm; working silently away in the background until the first sign of smoke, and only then does the alarm sound.

However, for someone who struggles regularly with anxiety, they can be super sensitive and their “smoke alarm” will go off as soon as you pop the bread down in the toaster.

What is Brain Fog?

Brain fog is not a medical condition but a symptom of other conditions. It usually results in memory problems and a lack of mental clarity. We may find it hard to concentrate and focus on simple tasks.

It may interfere with school, work or home life and can be frustrating, but it can be overcome once you understand the underlying cause.

Brain Fog Can Be A Stress Response

Brain fog can occur on its own but often accompanies anxiety, nervousness and fear. A fuzzy brain can be a stress response to our fight and flight survival mechanism.

When we are feeling anxious, our body secretes powerful stress hormones into our bloodstream in preparation for us to run away from danger. Along with many other anxiety symptoms, it causes a change in the functioning of our brain so we are able to deal with the perceived danger.

Activity is increased in the areas of our brain responsible for detecting and reacting to fear (our amygdala) and suppressed in areas of the brain responsible for planning, focusing, remembering and multi-tasking (our cortex).

When feeling anxious, we also become hyper-stimulated towards danger, fear and apprehension. If this anxious feeling is infrequent, then our body can recover quite quickly however if the anxious feeling persists, then our body can have a tough time recovering as our brain continues to release stress hormones.

This heightened awareness and reaction to danger, without the need to think logically about what to do next, serves us very well when the danger is real, but we can still have the same response in everyday situations such as interviews and tests, watching the news or scrolling through social media.

This feeling of anxiety results in a “brain fog” feeling.

What are the Symptoms of Brain Fog?

When we are struggling with anxiety and stress, we can often find it difficult to think, concentrate or form thoughts. We may have a word on the tip of our tongue, and it just doesn’t come to us, or see someone we know and be unable to recall their name. Our thinking can feel muddled, fuzzy and compromised.

It often feels very frustrating when our thoughts appear illusive and the things we once knew appear difficult to recall. We can start doubting our short-term memory and jump to conclusions that something is “wrong” with us. Simple tasks can appear harder than they used to and focus and concentration can feel like they have deserted us.

We can feel forgetful and have difficulty forming sentences or holding conversations. Our thinking is not as clear as it used to be when we were more relaxed, and our head can feel “foggy”,

Additionally, anxiety and hyperstimulation drain the body’s natural energy resources which can cause us to become tired. Tiredness also contributes to making processing, storing and retrieving information more difficult.

When we experience short-term memory loss or have difficulty concentrating, it is not uncommon for someone already struggling with anxiety to feel even more anxious. They may believe that they are on the verge of a mental breakdown or that the brain fog is indicative of something more serious. This anxiety will release more stress hormones, making symptoms even worse.

How Can I Get Rid of Brain Fog?

Overworking, anxiety, stress and a lack of sleep can all contribute to brain fog so it is important to look at your lifestyle.

  • Start by prioritising your sleep. We should aim to get between 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night as this is when the brain and body clear out toxins and regenerates us.
  • Exercise can be a great stress relief so how can you make time for regular exercise? Start slowly, if you are not used to exercising, and build up to around 30 minutes per day. This can be as simple as taking a walk in nature or a yoga class.
  • A healthy diet including olive oil, fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, beans and whole grains has been proven to improve thinking, memory and brain health. Avoid alcohol and coffee and stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.
  • When brain fog is linked to anxiety, then it is important to get to the root cause of the anxiety. Anxiety symptom’s persist when the underlying factors that cause the anxiety remain unidentified and unaddressed.
  • Learning strategies to recognise and calm your anxiety will mitigate the fight and flight response and the release of stress hormones. As our bodies recover from the hyperstimulation and return to a restful state, all symptoms including brain fog will diminish.
  • Anxiety is the result of how we think, feel and act, so notice how you are feeling and question your thoughts. Are you in danger right now? The answer is usually no however anxiety causes us to rehash our pasts and rehearse our futures.

If you are struggling with brain fog and wish to identify the root cause of your anxiety, then please get in touch to discuss how I can help you.

You can book a FREE 45 minute discovery call here