Are you experiencing anxiety and having difficulty thinking clearly? It could be anxiety brain fog.
If you’re experiencing brain fog, you’re not alone. Many of us have experienced a hazy state of mind from time to time.
But when foggy thinking begins to get in the way of your daily functioning, it can cause a host of challenges.
Although brain fog is common, people with anxiety tend to report it more often. But is anxiety to blame, or are there other conditions playing a role in your brain fog?
Although it’s not a stand-alone medical condition, brain fog could be a symptom of several mental health conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It can also result from temporary issues such as a lack of sleep.
If you have brain fog, you may feel spaced out or unable to think clearly. The focus, memory, and word recall challenges associated with brain fog may even cause you to have difficulty completing complex tasks or carrying on conversations.
If these cognitive difficulties continue, you may become less confident in social or work-related situations and avoid encounters where you need to be quick thinking and coherent.
The relationship between anxiety and brain fog is complicated.
A 2019 study suggests that anxiety can disrupt cognitive processes — such as thinking, problem-solving, and decision making — which could lead to foggy thinking. The brain is so busy processing anxious thoughts that it has little room left for these other functions.
But scientists also say that the relationship between brain fog and anxiety can go both ways — as brain fog increases, so can anxiety.
Also, anxiety or stress can activate the fight, flight, or freeze response. When you experience sudden stress, such as witnessing an accident, you may have difficulty thinking clearly and reacting at the moment.
But this cloudiness tends to go away when the stress is resolved.
On the other hand, stress and fear associated with anxiety can be constant. So, if you live with anxiety, you may be continually experiencing the fight, flight, or freeze response, which can result in a persistent mental fog.
Aside from anxiety, temporary issues can also produce cloudy thinking.
These may include the following:
- Lack of sleep. Even one lost night of sleep can cause slow or cloudy thinking. But if your sleep schedule continues to be disrupted, your brain fog could become chronic (long term).
- Diet. A
pilot studyfrom 2020 suggests that non-celiac gluten sensitivity may cause brain fog. Researchers found that 48% of participants who followed a strict gluten-free diet experienced brain fog after eating gluten. In addition, vitamin deficiencies — including a lack of vitamin B-12 — may cause cloudy thinking.
- Dehydration. According to
October 2021 research, not drinking enough fluids could lead to sluggish mental performance. Scientists suggest that dehydration could impair cognitive functions while being adequately hydrated can improve processing speed.
- Medications. Several medications can cause brain fog. These include, but are not limited to, chemotherapy drugs, pain medications, and antihistamines.
- Hormone changes. Fluctuating hormones related to menopause, pregnancy, or hormone-containing medications could result in cognitive difficulties.
Physical health conditions can also produce brain fog symptoms. These include:
- autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis
- anemia, or low iron
Mental health conditions that can cause brain fog include:
The common cold, influenza or the coronavirus are also known to produce brain fog.
If you’re experiencing brain fog, you may notice changes in how you think and remember. These changes may include:
- difficulty focusing on a task
- difficulty remembering words
- stumbling through conversations or losing your train of thought
- fatigue or mental tiredness
- lacking mental clarity
Over time, these symptoms could cause you to feel less confident in your abilities. This could lead to more anxiety or depression.
But there are things you can do to lessen brain fog and feel like yourself again.
Preventing brain fog is not always an easy task. Foggy thinking can sneak up on you so slowly that you might not notice it until it begins to impact your daily life.
But adopting a healthy lifestyle and effectively managing your anxiety might help keep it at bay.
If you experience brain fog, consider trying simple solutions such as following a sleep schedule, addressing dietary issues, and staying well-hydrated throughout the day.
Here are a few other strategies you could try:
- Think about adding dietary supplements for brain fog like vitamin B-12 or omega-3 fatty acids if your doctor deems them safe for you. According to a
2018 review, omega-3 fatty acid supplements may improve brain health and cognitive function.
- See if food allergies or intolerances may be playing a role in your brain fog.
- Talk with a healthcare or mental health professional about your prescription or over-the-counter medications to see if they may need adjusting.
- Find ways to manage your anxiety, including deep breathing techniques, meditation, or exercise.
- Consider talking with a mental health professional about anxiety treatment options.
If these strategies aren’t helping, you might want to consider talking with a healthcare or mental health professional to investigate possible mental or physical conditions behind your brain fog.
Experiencing brain fog along with anxiety can be frustrating. The hazy feeling in your head, combined with word retrieval and cognitive difficulties, can make even the simplest of tasks feel overwhelming.
It’s not your fault. Practicing self-kindness can help you overcome it successfully.
Also, you’re not alone, and there are treatments and self-help strategies to help clear the cloudiness and help you begin thinking clearly again.