What to know about anxiety and brain fog
Anxiety brain fog happens when a person feels anxious and has difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly.
Many conditions may cause anxiety and brain fog, including mental health diagnoses and physical illnesses.
It is normal to experience occasional brain fog and anxiety, especially during high stress. However, people who find that anxiety and brain fog regularly interfere with their everyday activities should seek medical attention.
Keep reading to learn more about brain fog, why it occurs alongside anxiety, and some other potential causes.
What is brain fog?
With brain fog, a person might feel less mentally sharp than usual. They might feel numb, and everyday activities may require more effort. Some people describe it as a foggy haze that makes accessing their thoughts or plans harder.
Some examples of things a person might do because of brain fog include:
- forgetting about a task they had to complete
- taking much longer than usual to complete simple tasks
- feeling frequently distracted
- feeling tired when working
Why does anxiety cause brain fog?
Anxiety takes up mental resources. A person may have to use more energy to focus on something other than their anxiety. They may feel that their anxious thoughts constantly intrude on their thought processes. This can make it more difficult to concentrate and think clearly.
For example, research shows that anxiety notably impacts a person’s working memory and many other mental processes.
Some mental health conditions that may cause anxiety and brain fog include:
- anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Physical health issues may also cause anxiety and brain fog. For example, people with long COVID-19 may also experience brain fog and PTSD.
Additionally, chronic fatigue syndrome, which can cause a person to feel frequently exhausted, may cause anxiety and brain fog.
Symptoms of brain fog
Brain fog is a symptom, not a medical diagnosis. It can feel different to different people, and they might not use the same term to refer to various symptoms. Some characteristics of brain fog include:
- feeling “spacy” or confused
- feeling fatigued
- thinking more slowly than usual and needing more time to complete simple tasks
- being easily distracted
- having trouble organizing thoughts or activities
- forgetfulness, such as forgetting daily tasks or losing a train of thought
- having difficulty finding the right word
Treatment and prevention
Since brain fog is a symptom rather than a medical diagnosis, there is no specific treatment for it. However, managing the anxiety, or any condition causing it, may help.
Some treatment options could include the following:
- medications, including antianxiety medications, antidepressants, or stimulants for ADHD
- psychotherapy to talk about anxiety and develop coping skills
- support groups
- time management systems to help a person remain focused
- adjustments at school or work, such as extra test-taking time
- exercise, deep breathing, and meditation
Getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and remaining nourished may also help reduce the risk of brain fog. This is especially helpful for people with anxiety that distracts them from self-care.
Some people find that specific self-care strategies may also help. These could include following a schedule, using a reminder app, or taking frequent breaks from whatever could be heightening their anxiety.
Learn more about treatments for anxiety here.
When to contact a doctor
Occasional brain fog is normal, especially when a person can identify a clear cause, such as being tired, having a cold, or experiencing family stress.
However, people should see a doctor if:
- their brain fog regularly interferes with their ability to complete daily tasks
- they have problems with daily functioning, for example, they forget to pay bills or get lost often
- their memory seems to be getting steadily worse
- self-care interventions do not help with their brain fog
- they experience brain fog much of the time
- their anxiety is very intense and does not get better with home treatments
Other causes of brain fog
Numerous medical conditions can cause brain fog. It is important not to ignore this symptom, especially if it does not improve with home treatments.
Some potential reasons a person might develop brain fog include:
- hunger, dehydration, or vitamin deficiencies
- neurological conditions, such as dementia or a head injury
- chronic illnesses, such as lupus
- illegal drugs and alcohol
- certain medications, such as chemotherapy medications and mood stabilizers
Learn more about other causes of brain fog here.
Frequently asked questions
Below are some frequently asked questions relating to brain fog and anxiety.
Does brain fog go away?
The duration of a person’s brain fog will depend on its underlying cause. It can last days to years but typically resolves with treatment of its cause.
What vitamins help with brain fog?
Nutrient deficiencies may worsen brain fog symptoms. Some research suggests that an adequate intake of vitamins B12, C, and D, may help maintain or improve cognitive function.
Is brain fog a mental illness?
Brain fog is not a mental illness. It is a term for a collection of symptoms including memory and concentration difficulties.
Should I go to a neurologist for brain fog?
Brain fog is often a sign of an underlying condition. If brain fog persists for several weeks, a person should contact a neurologist for assessment. Identifying the cause of brain fog enables doctors to treat the condition accordingly.
Both anxiety and brain fog can severely disrupt a person’s daily life.
Brain fog may make completing simple tasks more difficult. This may worsen anxiety due to missed deadlines and conflicts with work or loved ones.
The right treatment can help the anxiety and thus, the brain fog it causes.
A doctor may also recommend self-care strategies. People concerned about their anxiety or brain fog should not delay seeking help, especially if the symptoms are severe.