Some brain-boosting advice for overworked minds
Disengaged, overwhelmed and exhausted? Dr Mike Dow believes 'mental fog' is a new epidemic - but there's a lot you can do about it
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: mental or 'brain fog'.
As the term suggests, brain fog is, well, just that - a brain that feels foggy and clogged. Processing things and concentrating becomes more arduous and draining, there's a sense of being disengaged, slightly removed, and this often has a big impact on mood, too, with low-level depression and a loss of joy and motivation.
Brain fog is not an entirely new concept, of course. It's long been recognised as a characteristic or repercussion of many long-term health conditions, for instance, like MS, head injuries and post-traumatic stress, and also as a side-effect experienced by people on long-term medication, particularly long-term pain relief.
But can it affect people as a stand-alone condition?
Psychotherapist and author, Dr Mike Dow, believes so and has even dubbed brain fog a "new epidemic". Its characteristics can be vague, he points out in his new book - Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory And Joy In Just 3 Weeks - and lots of people might not be aware that the "symptoms" they're experiencing are linked.
Dow had noticed similar patterns among a number of his clients and acquaintances. A sense of being "in a slump", a bit detached 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, inside 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 states.
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 sometimes described as 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.
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 identifying - 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. "We experience these biological problems as brain fog, scatterbrain, memory loss, fatigue, anxiety, and the blues."
Over time, these problems can become chronic and more severe, if nothing is done to address them, and short-term solutions - reaching for the caffeine or sugar, for example - can end up being part of the problem, too.
What your brain needs
In his book, Dr Dow explores brain fog causes and, most importantly, what can be done about them in close detail. Here's a quick look at the key things he believes we need to keep brain fog at bay:
- Proper nutrients, including the right vitamins, essential amino acids, and healthy fats.
- Sufficient, restful sleep.
- Regular, healthy circadian rhythms.
- Downtime for relaxation and restoration.
- Purpose and meaning.
- Spiritual practice.
- A connection to something larger than yourself.
The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory And Joy In Just 3 Weeks by Dr Mike Dow is published by Hay House, priced £12.99