Brain Fog: What is It?

Worth Living Ambassador Frankie Samah

Hi I’m Frankie and I’m from Wales, UK. I am a psychology teacher and postgraduate education psychologist. I am a women’s right activist, working with women’s aid to raising awareness and to break the silence. I am a mental health advocate and writer. I believe in counteracting the stigma around mental health and we should begin with the ideology. Instagram- Frankie Samah

Brain Fog: What is It?

So many of us experience a heavy feeling in our heads or our heads feeling fuzzy, where we can’t concentrate or recall information. It was once described to me like this- imagine you are a knight in a forest full of overgrown brambles, you take out your sword to chop away the brambles so you can walk through the forest. This is what it feels like to have brain fog, you have to battle the way through your mind to concentrate, read, think, to complete the most mundane task.

Brain fog symptoms
• Fatigue or low energy
• Inability to concentrate
• Poor working memory
• Confusion
• Low motivation
• Disorientation
• Reduced ability to recall information and to memorise information

So what is it?

Brain fog is not a medical term; it can have many names for example – brain fatigue, brain clouding, clouding of consciousness. It is a type of cognitive dysfunction that can affect your memory, can lead to poor concentration, forgetfulness and a lack of focus and mental clarity. This is generally caused by an inflammation of the brain which stems from some underlying cause.

Through research, this underlying inflammation seems to be associated with the frontal-limbic circuitry. This word ‘frontal’ is easy to understand, this is the front part of the brain, its primarily involved in motor function, problem-solving, memory, language, and impulses. The structure of the limbic system is involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory.

The limbic system generally involves the bits in the middle, such as the amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and cingulate gyrus. The amygdala is the emotion centre of the brain while the hippocampus helps the formation of new memories.

So brain fog can be caused if the limbic system becomes unbalanced which can occur because of an injury or a stressful event.

The unbalance to the limbic system can also occur because of a hormone change such as dopamine, serotonin and cortisol which all determine your mood, energy, and focus. Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone as it keeps us awake and alert; dopamine helps regulate movement and emotional responses; serotonin governs anxiety, happiness, and mood.

With the frontal-limbic system affected and the understanding of what it regulates it becomes understandable why we don’t feel ourselves.

In the novel- One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, written in 1962, brain fog plays a significant role throughout. Nurse Ratched uses this brain fog to her advantage as she knows how it can make her patients feel helpless and keeps the patients from rising against her. It is only when Randle becomes a patient and begins to treat other patients with dignity does their ‘fog’ begin to lift. The novel makes it clear that many of the characters are not necessarily “insane”, but they fail to fit into society, so society makes them feel “insane”. The characters in the novel hold themselves back from living freely because they are terrified of how they will be perceived and this judgement about what constitutes normal or abnormal behaviour is made by a few people in a perceived position of power. For most of the patients, they simply cannot deal with the shame of not fitting into normal society rules. As a result, they hide themselves away rather than having to face the challenges of life, until character, Randle, helps them to recognise their internal dignity and self-worth, reconnect with themselves, and to fall in love with themselves in a way that would be unaffected by society’s perception of them.

“I’d wander for days in the fog, scared I’d never see another thing” Ken Kesey, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Brain fog can be lifted by helping ease the underlying cause, by dealing with the stressors in your life and becoming more in control of your thoughts. There are many ways this can be done ; for example, through cognitive behavioural therapy which is a talking therapy that is designed to change the way you think and behave.

The reason I wanted to explain what brain fog is, I firmly believe to counterbalance the stigma around mental health we should begin with the ideology and we can achieve this through education. With a knowledge of how brain fog can affect us, it can help us understand people who are suffering with it and it demonstrates how we can’t simply snap out of it. It takes time for the fog to ease and our minds to clear.

Recently, the most talented Kate Spade who brought so much beauty into this world through her creative talents sadly took her own life. This is a deafening reminder that mental health and depression doesn’t discriminate, so neither should we. Happiness is not limited to your bank account, your looks, your profession, your success or how you present your persona to the world. There should be no more stigma surrounding mental health, only kindness, awareness, compassion, love and understanding.

One might say that people with a ‘normal’ functioning brain are excited to be alive even if there are life stressors or heartache but imagine what it would be like if this excitement had gone and you are trapped in the static fog of your mind.
Brain fog may be invisible but it is clear it can have a compelling effect on people’s life. Take time to be someone’s Randle and help them fall in love with themselves.

If you do feel the need to talk to someone, on the Worth Living website under contacts, there is a “getting help” section which contains useful contacts that may be beneficial.

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