Brain Fog Is Real -- I Learned That the Hard Way
I had a discussion with my friend once about brain fog, and I said brain fog wasn't a real symptom of depression; it was just sort of a layperson's description of cognitive difficulties. Brain fog itself wasn't exactly real, per se; I said I wasn't exactly wrong about that, but I wasn't exactly right either. Brain fog is not exactly a medical descriptor, but I identify with it as a part of my illness(es). I can now attest to the fact that brain fog is real.
What Is Real Brain Fog?
The definition of brain fog, much like brain fog itself, is cloudy and inexact. According to MedicineNet:
"Brain fog is a term that describes problems with focus, memory, logic, and problem-solving."1
In other words, the term describes various cognitive difficulties. It can also be thought of as mental exhaustion.
I would suggest that everyone experiences brain fog from time to time, but as far as it being a symptom of something (yes, brain fog is a real symptom), it's most frequently thought of as a symptom of either chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. Brain fog is a constant problem for people with chronic fatigue syndrome, and "fibro-fog" is a core symptom of fibromyalgia.1
However, just because those are the common associations, that doesn't mean it doesn't happen with other conditions as well. According to MedicineNet, other conditions known for brain fog include:
- Psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety, and stress
- Menopause or other hormone changes
- Some medications, such as amitriptyline (Elavil; an antidepressant)
- Low levels of Vitamin B12
- Multiple sclerosis
- Underactive thyroid
How I Know Brain Fog Is Real
I know brain fog is real because I suffer from brain fog. My case is complicated because I have other chronic illnesses alongside bipolar disorder, not to mention insomnia, but regardless of the contributing factors, I experience brain fog frequently. Right now, I'm finding it difficult to find the words I want to write in this article. For example, it took me minutes to remember the word "contributing." Obviously, I know that word, but brain fog blocks what I know from my brain.
I also frequently forget words when I'm speaking. They might be trickier words, or they might be the simplest words in the world; it doesn't seem to matter -- I just can't remember them when I need them. This is eminently frustrating, especially as a speaker and writer.
On top of that, I can also attest to brain fog causing issues with focus and problem-solving. I tend to get overwhelmed with even small problem-solving tasks. It feels like needing to solve a really complex math equation but not knowing how. It's like looking into a cloud of numbers for the answer.
Real brain fog tends to make me feel unintelligent, slow, and, well, not like me.
Real Brain Fog Requires Real Coping Techniques
I'll be the first to admit that sometimes when I can't think of a word I need when speaking to a friend, I'll emit a noise of frustration and throw my hands in the air. That is not a great brain fog coping technique, but it's a genuine reaction.
Better brain fog coping techniques that I use include:
- Drinking coffee -- The stimulant seems to combat some of the effects. (A stimulant may not be not right for everyone, however.)
- Talking around the missing word -- Instead of getting caught up in trying to remember a specific word, I just skip over the missing word and describe what I mean using other words. I know lots of words; no need to get caught up on the ones I can't find at certain times.
- Using a placeholder word -- When I'm writing, I don't stop to try to remember a missing word. I put in a placeholder word that I'll replace with what I really mean later.
- Breaking things down into smaller parts -- Large ideas and problems tend to overwhelm; breaking things down into tiny parts and dealing with only one small thing at a time can be a way of conquering the whole.
- Getting more sleep -- Insomnia is the worst.
Treatments for Real Brain Fog
Unfortunately, there are no real treatments for brain fog. If you went to a doctor, they would try to determine the underlying issue and treat that. That said, some would offer alternative treatments for brain fog. Steven Roberts, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, says that you can try:2
- Getting more sleep
- Reducing stress
- Changing your diet to be healthier
- Using vitamins and supplements (folate and B vitamin might be good choices)
- Exercising regularly
- Challenging your mind, perhaps by doing brain puzzles
- Finding enjoyable activities
- Avoiding alcohol, coffee, and smoking
- Reducing time on electronic devices
(Yes, Roberts says no coffee, and I say coffee. What can I say? Your mileage may vary.)
Have you found that brain fog is real? What are your techniques for dealing with brain fog?
- The Symptoms of Brain Fog
- Brain Fog as a Symptom of Depression
- How Long Does Brain Fog Last? Can You Clear It Quickly?
- Brain Fog with Anxiety
What Is Brain Fog? 9 Causes (Plus Symptoms for Each). (2022, May 12). MedicineNet. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://www.medicinenet.com/brain_fog/article.htm
Roberts, S., PhD. (2022, February 10). How To Get Rid of Brain Fog (Natural Remedies). EvidenceLive. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://evidencelive.org/how-to-get-rid-of-brain-fog/
Tracy, N. (2022, August 17). Brain Fog Is Real -- I Learned That the Hard Way, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 10 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2022/8/brain-fog-is-real-i-learned-that-the-hard-way