Brain Fog with Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
Brain fog with anxiety is a common experience that is often misunderstood. Brain fog is often associated with a slowing down of thinking and processing, while anxiety frequently is the opposite: racing thoughts can make people vigilant, and worries keep people awake, wired, and restless. How is it that anxiety and brain fog can occur together? The answer begins with an understanding of both brain fog and anxiety.
How Does Brain Fog with Anxiety Happen?
Brain fog isn’t a disorder but instead is an experience. It’s the sensation that something isn’t right, that you’re not functioning as sharply as usual. With brain fog, you feel off. Anxiety involves such things as excessive worry, overthinking, imagining negative outcomes, and fear.
Feeling brain fog with anxiety happens because the symptoms of one can cause the symptoms of the other. This, of course, worsens both conditions. It can become an infinite loop:
- Anxiety involves “what-ifs,” ruminations, and negative thinking
- This leads to mental exhaustion
- Fatigue can lead to the development of brain fog
- Brain fog can increase anxiety because it feels frightening, worrisome
- Heightened anxiety causes this cycle to repeat, seemingly endlessly
The occurrence of anxiety and brain fog varies from person to person. Some people experience it often, while others are struck with it less frequently. It can come and go quickly, or it can last for days, weeks, and even months.
Both experiences are frustrating. Examining brain fog symptoms and causes of brain fog and anxiety will yield insights that can be used to treat them.
Symptoms of Brain Fog with Anxiety
If the symptoms of these mental health challenges had to be described in just a single word, that word would be “fatigue.” Brain fog, anxiety, and fatigue have an enmeshed relationship. Without a doubt, fatigue is at the heart of brain fog with anxiety.
Anxiety seems to overtake our entire brain and usurps thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Living in a state of anxiety is exhausting. Additionally, anxiety can cause sleep problems. Fatigue can lead directly to brain fog. Symptoms of brain fog from anxiety include:
- Difficulty concentrating and focusing
- Muddled, unclear thoughts
- Short-term memory problems
- Difficulty reasoning logically
- Trouble processing, storing, and retrieving information
- Living in a fog that makes grasping comments, instructions, and conversations tough
- The vague sense that you just feel “off” but can’t do anything about it
The symptoms of brain fog with anxiety can be better understood in the context of the causes of anxiety and brain fog.
Causes of Brain Fog with Anxiety
The brain fog that can come with anxiety has several causes:
- The symptoms of anxiety (discussed above)
- The brain’s physical response to anxiety
- Stress and stress hormones
Understanding these causes can increase awareness of why brain fog and anxiety can co-occur.
The brain’s own reaction to anxiety can leave it feeling tired and foggy. The fight-or-flight response is an automatic fear response. The brain changes its activity in response to an extreme stressor in order to prepare to do what it takes to survive (either stay and fight or run away to safety).
- Activity in the cortex, the area of rational thinking, decreases, which leads to the inability to think that is a big part of brain fog
- Activity in the hippocampus, the area responsible for things like learning and memory, is suppressed, which explains the confusion, focus, and memory problems of brain fog
- Activity in the amygdala accelerates to keep you hypervigilant and ready to leap before you look, which is why brain fog is associated with a decline in rational thinking
The brain also orchestrates the production of hormones in reaction to stress and anxiety. Cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine course through brain and body to keep you on alert and ready for action, but when these hormones are present for too long or in quantities that are too high, they overwhelm and exhaust the brain, leading to brain fog.
Treatment for Brain Fog and Anxiety
The best treatment for the brain fog that occurs with anxiety is to meet it at its source. Understand the symptoms of both brain fog and anxiety and take steps to reduce the symptoms you are experiencing. Further, know what is causing your symptoms so you can make positive changes to reduce them.
- Develop stress management strategies, and use them
- Take measures to increase the amount and quality of sleep you get nightly
- Address your anxiety, perhaps with a therapist
- Listen to your brain and body, and when your brain fog is intense, give your brain a break with things like meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and yoga
Brain fog and anxiety can team up to make life difficult. But by actively working on them, you can reduce both. Regain your brain and live well again.
Peterson, T. (2018, June 27). Brain Fog with Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/anxiety-information/brain-fog-with-anxiety-symptoms-causes-treatment