The Reason Why Your Brain’s So Foggy Right Now, According To A Neurologist

By Healthy Mind May 11th, 2020 | Image Source : Well And Good

Yesterday morning, I spent a solid five minutes staring at the word “spaghetti.” I was writing an article for work, and my brain suddenly could not verify that (yes, indeed!) there is an “h” after the “g” in the pasta shape that goes into everyone’s favorite Italian dish. The brain fog had already rolled at 10 in the gosh darn morning—and neurologist, Priyank Khandelwal, MBBS, assistant professor in neurology at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, says there’s a legit, life-affirming reason so many of our minds feel like pea soup these days.

“In medical terms, you can boil down ‘brain fog’ into a few things,” says Dr. Khandelwal. “When somebody’s feeling more anxious, and more distracted as a result, then they may feel like they have more of a lack of energy than they do on normal days. That’s what some people describe as brain fog.” Right now, constant worry about the virus has become an uninvited guest into our quarantine—and it’s really only being amplified by the fact that we can’t connect with others outside of video chat, we’re grappling with the fear being laid off or making ends meet after being laid off, and our routines at large have been upended.

Anxiety takes a lot of mental juice, and in the time of COVID-19, our brains are running on fumes. Research from 2018 found a direct link between anxiety and fatigue, while older research from 2011 found a lack of focus in “high-anxiety individuals“—and this research happened during time periods when the collective wasn’t facing a pandemic. “When people are at home and they feel restricted, that can make someone low-energy and even depressed. That’s what we’ve been seeing in some of our patients—especially people with a history of depression or anxiety,” says Dr. Khandelwal.

“Once people accept this reality, that this is going to be over lifestyle at least for a few months, they’ve reached a feeling of acceptance.” —Priyank Khandelwal, MBBS

As a neurologist, Dr. Khandelwal believes that clearing the fog so many of us feel right now hinges up our ability to accept and adapt to our new (albeit temporary) reality. As counterintuitive as it sounds, what will ease our COVID-19-specific anxiety is creating rituals and habits that make us feel grounded within its constraints. “Now, more data is coming to suggest that [the pandemic] may linger on for some time,” says Dr. Khandelwal “Once people accept this reality, that this is going to be over lifestyle at least for a few months, they’ve reached a feeling of acceptance. And then you get more clear in your thoughts and you start to make the best of the situation.”

Obviously, acceptance doesn’t come overnight and it doesn’t come without hard, emotionally-difficult work. The easiest way to start, says Dr. Khandelwal, is to care for your baseline well-being: your sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

This seems basic, but these simple things can be surprisingly effective not only for physical health, but for mental health as well. “There is a power in habits because they are the automatic building blocks of our choices which add up into routines,” Paulette Sherman, PsyD, a psychologist and the author of The Book of Sacred Baths previously told Well+Good. “The benefits of eating similar things daily is if you make good choices you are less likely to be swayed by emotion or surrounding influences. Making choices and reinventing the wheel each day takes focus and energy.” Save that energy for the things that really matter to you.

Make time for a breakfast you love, fake your commute to work so you get to listen to your favorite podcast, keep your therapy appointments to stay in tune with your mental wellness, play games with friends, and do your best to get a good night’s sleep. All of these things will create a new normal that introduces comfort to go along with the dread brought on by the COVID-19 infodemic. And, as a result, you should feel the fog begin to lift as you realize this is your life. It’s not on pause.

“Making choices and reinventing the wheel each day takes focus and energy.” —Paulette Sherman, PhD

There’s also something to be said about starting something new in quarantine that you may not have gotten to otherwise. There’s a “fresh start energy” in the air right now. And as psychologist Laurie Santos, PhD, host of The Happiness Lab podcast and professor of Yale’s viral happiness course, recently said a Facebook live, “Wonderful research by Katie Milken and others shows that these new situations and these new moments of fresh starts allow us to form habits better.”

Maybe that means starting a writing ritual that gets you closer to penning that novel you always wanted to write. Or buying a monstera for your tiny apartment and tending to it until it turns into an indoor jungle, or trying to do one thing each day that’s positive for your mind. Mental Health America reports that joy has been found to decrease stress hormones, while laughing mitigates anxiety (and thus, clears that thick mental fog).

Your biggest responsibility for the months ahead (besides properly social distancing) is to care for your brain. Sorry to be cheesy, but right now, you kinda have to be the lighthouse shining through all your own mental fog.

Author: Healthy Mind


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