We’ve come to accept tiredness and stress as part and parcel of our busy, modern lives. And sure, it would probably be unrealistic – and also not entirely necessary – to expect to never feel tired or stressed (they aren’t exclusively ‘bad’ things, after all). But there is a limit as to how much we can manage, and for increasing numbers of us, they’re symptoms of a wider problem: brain fog. Psychotherapist and author Dr Mike Dow believes this to be something of a “new epidemic”. Its characteristics can be vague, and lots of people might not be aware that the ‘symptoms’ they’re experiencing are linked – but chances are, they’ll sound familiar. Dow noticed similar patterns in people experiencing brain fog. A sense of being “in a slump”, a bit detached and disengaged from life. Feeling mentally overwhelmed, unable to really focus and in a permanent state of exhaustion – yet not being able to get a good night’s sleep. Life’s just dragging on and, while it might look as though you’re functioning well and doing a fine job of juggling all those balls, you feel as though you’re wading (but you’re not entirely sure you have the energy to really care?). “Some people simply say they just don’t feel like themselves – and haven’t for a long time,” Dow writes in his new book, The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory And Joy In Just 3 Weeks.
Part of getting older?
It’s easy to dismiss things like this as being just a normal and inevitable part of getting older (brain fog is often dubbed a ‘middle-aged’ condition), but in his book, Dow is keen to highlight that there’s a lot that can be done to both prevent and address brain fog. In some cases however, brain fog might be linked with other conditions (such as MS), or could also be a side-effect of medications (it can be a particular problem for people on long-term pain relief, for instance).
While a lot of brain fog feels emotional – and indeed, psychological and emotional factors could have contributed to its onset, like a period of high stress or emotional trauma – Dow points out that it’s a physiological issue too. “Many of my patients had significant imbalances in their brain chemistry – imbalances that were seriously interfering with their ability to experience their power, joy, and purpose,” he says. “For most, these imbalances didn’t require prescription medication – only a handful of them would have been diagnosed with depression. Nor were most of these problems chronic; all of these patients could recall long periods of time when they had been able to think clearly and felt great. “Unfortunately, many of their diets, lifestyles, and circumstances were conspiring to destabilise their brain chemistry, leaving them thinking badly and feeling worse.”
Beating brain fog therefore means indentifying – and also addressing – the factors feeding into the problem, even if they seem insignificant or unlikely to make a massive difference. In this age of convenience foods, long working hours and 24-7 access to technology, it can be all too easy to fall into habits that contribute to brain fog. “The way we eat, sleep, work, and live is flooding, starving, clogging, and disrupting our brains by destabilising the levels of three crucial brain chemicals: serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol,” says Dow.