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Mental Health

Brain fog: how to cope when your mind feels like it’s moving in slow motion

Feeling tired all the time and struggling to concentrate? You could be dealing with ‘brain fog’. Here’s what you can do about it.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected our wellbeing in a variety of ways. From disrupted sleep and screen fatigue to anxiety and loneliness, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hadn’t been affected by the stress, isolation and uncertainty of the last year.

For many people, the pressure of the pandemic has also manifested in the form of ‘brain fog’.

Even if you’ve never heard of the term before, chances are you’ve experienced it at some point over the last couple of months – characterised by mental fatigue, confusion and a general struggle to process information, it can make it hard to concentrate and transform the easiest of tasks into a real challenge. You might find it hard to remember simple facts or interpret what people are saying, too.

It’s almost as if your brain is coated in a thick, syrupy liquid – you’re able to go about your daily life, but there’s a palpable disconnect between your body and the world around you.

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Experiencing brain fog for the first time can be an overwhelming experience, but it’s important to note that it’s a completely normal thing and can happen for any number of reasons, including stress.

“Although it isn’t a medical condition, brain fog can be a symptom of mental health conditions (like stress, anxiety and depression), or poor lifestyle habits,” explains Caroline Harper, specialist mental health nurse at Bupa UK.  “Not getting enough sleep may cause brain fog throughout the day and a poor diet lacking in vitamins can also leave you feeling foggy, too.”

Harper also points out that brain fog can be a symptom of medical conditions such as coeliac disease, the menopause and lupus. However, if you’ve experienced brain fog for the first-time during lockdown, it’s more likely that stress or lack of sleep is the cause. 

How to prevent brain fog 

A woman with her head in her hands
To prevent brain fog, you also need to address the core problem.

On top of identifying and trying to avoid whatever is causing your brain fog, Harper says there are a number of things you can do to prevent it from developing – many of which you can incorporate into your day-to-day routine.

1. Eat the right foods

Your nutrition doesn’t just play an important role in keeping your body healthy – it affects your brain health, which can impact your wellbeing.

“Make sure your diet is full of fresh fruit and vegetables – it’s an easy way to get the right vitamins into your body,” Harper explains. 

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“Slow-release energy foods (like pasta, oats and nuts) can keep you energised throughout the day. If you’re not eating enough, you may experience brain fog and feel irritated easy.”

She continues: “Avoid alcohol, smoking and drinking coffee after 3pm, too.” 

2. Take five

Taking regular breaks throughout the day is crucial because it gives your brain the time it needs to relax and recuperate and ensures you’re not pushing yourself too hard.

“Take regular hourly breaks for five minutes each time – even if you simply look out the window and change your focus,” Harper says. “It will give your brain a break from constantly focusing.” 

Harper also recommends carrying this habit through to your weekend. While it’s easy to assume you don’t need to take breaks when you’re not working, your brain still needs time to stop focusing – even if your ‘focus’ is watching Netflix.

“It can be tempting to scroll endlessly on social media right now, so make sure you take regular breaks away from your digital devices,” Harper suggests. “Remember: if what you are reading or listening to is causing you to feel overwhelmed, it’s time to switch off.” 

3. Prioritise your sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t always easy, but try to put in place some relaxing activities and habits that increase your chances of nodding off.

“A relaxing activity, such as a hot bath or reading your favourite book, can leave you feeling relaxed and ready to drift off,” Harper explains. 

“Switch off your digital devices at least an hour before bed, too.”

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She continues: “If racing thoughts in your mind are keeping you up, try writing down anything that’s on your mind. Not only can this help you to organise your thoughts and leave you feeling calmer, but it can stop any worries or stresses building up inside your head.”

4. Seek support

If your brain fog is getting overwhelming, it’s important to seek extra support.

Harper explains: “If you’re struggling with your health or wellbeing right now, sharing your concerns with someone you trust can really help, even if they can’t change what you’re experiencing.

“Your GP will always be available to discuss support for your mental health, too.” 

How to treat brain fog 

A woman looking out the window
Brain fog: when your head starts feeling fuzzy, its time to take a break.

Sometimes it’s not always possible to prevent brain fog from developing – so what can you do to ease symptoms in the meantime?

“If you find yourself feeling fuzzy or you’re struggling to concentrate, take yourself away for a break until your symptoms begin to ease,” Harper explains. 

“It’s your body’s way of saying that you need a break, so listen to it.”

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On top of this, Harper recommends moving your body (“exercise or stretching can help to reduce your symptoms”) and giving your brain a boost via snacks.

“Eating high-energy snacks – like nuts, a banana and dried fruit – can reduce your symptoms of brain fog and provide you with a much-needed energy boost.” 

Although brain fog can be frustrating to deal with, taking these steps to prevent and reduce symptoms should help you to feel more in control.

And remember: as much as we hate to be cliché, these are unprecedented times – so don’t be too hard on yourself if your brain isn’t playing along.

If your brain fog persists for a couple of weeks, it’s important to speak to your doctor, as they’ll be able to support you.  

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with anxiety, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website or visit the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations and the NHS Every Mind Matters resource hub.

You can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

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