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Symptoms of Brain Fog: What Does Brain Fog Feel Like?

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Together, the symptoms of brain fog can be summarized with one word: trapped. Experiencing brain fog is like being trapped behind a dirty window, with roiling fog outside, and not really knowing why you’re just standing there staring through the dirty glass at gray, misty fog. Further, you don’t know what to do about it. Symptoms of brain fog aren’t debilitating or life-threatening, but they do inhibit your normal life functioning. Let’s explore brain fog symptoms and what brain fog feels like.

A List of the Symptoms of Brain Fog

The typical brain fog feeling is what gives the experience its name. It feels like you’re living in a thick fog that separates you from the rest of your life. You might feel that the fog surrounds you, is inside your head, or both. This foggy feeling leads to other symptoms of brain fog, including:

  • An inability to think clearly or grasp a thought
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty focusing, concentrating
  • Forgetfulness (walking into a room but not remembering why)
  • Short-term memory problems (not remembering what was said in conversations or what you ate for breakfast—or if you even ate breakfast)
  • Disorganization
  • Decreased productivity despite trying to accomplish something
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of energy
  • Wandering attention
  • Problems communicating, like following what someone is saying or finding words to express something

If you study this list, you might notice that the brain fog feeling resembles other mental- and physical health conditions. Brain fog shares some symptoms with things like:

  • Depression
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Dissociation

How do you know if you’re experiencing brain fog or something else? Contrasting brain fog with each of these conditions will help you get to the bottom of your brain fog symptoms (Causes of Brain Fog: What are the Reasons for My Brain Fog?).

Symptoms of Brain Fog vs. Other Mental Health, Physical Health Experiences

Brain Fog and Depression

Both brain fog and depression involve fatigue, lethargy, decreased motivation, and difficulty forming thoughts (Depression and Slowed Thinking: Reduced Processing Speed).  An important thought helps you know if your brain fog is part of depression or something else: your sense of self-efficacy.

With depression, you believe that you can’t do certain tasks or meet particular goals. In brain fog that isn’t part of depression, you know that you can do more than you are doing. Depression says, “I’m worthless and incapable,” while brain fog says, “I’m competent and capable, but I don’t know how to be that way right now.”

Brain Fog and ADHD

Some defining symptoms of ADHD include difficulty concentrating, focusing, and paying attention. These symptoms are prominent in brain fog, too. Yet like with depression, there are differences.

The concentration, focusing, and disorganization problems of ADHD can occur because of an imbalance of dopamine levels in the brain. Brain fog is often caused by other conditions. This means that the concentration and other problems feel different, too.

When hyperactivity is involved in ADHD, someone with it will feel wired. Focusing, paying attention, and organization are challenging because the brain is too busy chasing sensory input it can’t shut out. Brain fog feels like everything around you is so enshrouded in wool that the brain can’t really find anything on which to focus. Straining to pay attention to something you can’t quite grasp is tiring, and the brain can’t quite do it.

Brain Fog and Dissociation

People with a dissociative disorder sometimes “separate” from their own minds as a defense mechanism. Dissociations cause gaps in memory. People might also experience depersonalization or derealization. Depersonalization is the sense that you somehow aren’t real, while derealization is the notion that the world around you isn’t quite real (Mental Fog, Stress and PTSD).

The memory problems and the sense that you or the world around you isn’t real are similar to some of the symptoms of brain fog. Gaps in memory, confusion, trouble grasping words or hanging onto a coherent thought are common to both dissociations and brain fog. With dissociations, however, the symptoms occur because the brain is doing something intentionally to protect the person (this does not mean that someone dissociates on purpose or is choosing to dissociate).                      

Experiencing the symptoms of brain fog makes you feel like you’re a giant boulder trying to roll yourself up a hill. You have a very hard time, not just because your limbs are heavy but because you can’t remember where you’re going and why you’re going there. You can’t think clearly to figure it out, and you can’t quite form the words you need to ask for help.

The symptoms of brain fog can make living moment-to-moment seem daunting. Brain fog isn’t a permanent condition. It’s an experience that comes and goes, and the symptoms of brain fog are treatable.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2018, June 27). Symptoms of Brain Fog: What Does Brain Fog Feel Like?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/symptoms/symptoms-of-brain-fog-what-does-brain-fog-feel-like

Last Updated: May 16, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD