You’re sitting at your desk, trying to finish up an important report for you boss before you head home. You know it shouldn’t be this hard, but your head feel fuzzy, full of clouds that are making it hard to pull your ideas together. The more frustrated you get, the harder it is to think. You know you’ve been busier and more exhausted lately, and you start to wonder, can burnout cause brain fog? Or this something else?
What is brain fog?
If you battle brain fog, you’re very familiar with what it feels like!
Brain fog is described as cloudy mental thinking. Women struggle most often with difficulties focusing or concentrating on tasks in front of them. And many report memory concerns, too.
A short bout of brain fog is one thing. But overtime, you may start to notice problems like procrastination popping up. Or you find you’re easily distracted and can’t make decisions anymore. And potentially you start to struggle with how to cope with your busy life.
These last, more complicated symptoms of brain fog are tied with burnout. Which is why it’s often wondered, can burnout cause brain fog? And if so, how do you deal with this?
One very important point I want you to know though – it is never normal to have brain fog.
So, can burnout cause brain fog?
Let’s start with burnout. Because there is an epidemic on our society in which more and more women are beginning to feel exhausted, unable to deal with work demands and personal challenges, and, often, as though they’ve lost motivation and joy for life.
Burnout is real. And it’s happening all around us, and to us, every day.
And it’s not just an emotional response to working long hours or dealing with a demanding workload. Burnout most often stems from long-term psychological stress or trauma that hasn’t been properly addressed. This adds to your stress load, making it harder for your hormonal system to handle more stress as life moves forward.
When your body’s natural response to a high demand, fast-paced lifestyle falls short of its ability to cope with everything going on in your life, you become burnt out. And your stress response becomes maladaptive and is no longer resilient or strong enough to keep up with day-to-day demands.
And you become exhausted. Frazzled. And brain fog sets in.
How Burnout Affects Your Brain
Your brain physiologically changes when you have a maladaptive stress response.
These changes affect how well our hormones and our nervous systems manage and maintain internal homeostasis.
Changes in Your Brain
Long-term burnout changes the neural circuits in your brain, and adjusts the size and consistency of certain areas within. For example, your prefrontal cortex shrinks, and your brain tissue thins. The amygdala, a main controller of mood, enlarges, leading to irritability, anxiety and mood swings.
With these changes come problems with forming new memories and recalling old ones. Our attention spans shortens and we’re easily distracted. And, of course, our emotional health suffers.
Which answers the question, can burnout cause brain fog?
Yes, it very much can.
And it’s the main reason for brain fog.
Other reasons we can have burnout and brain fog include imbalances with our nutritional intake, metabolic problems, hormonal issues, and biochemical inconsistencies.
Of course, there are some specific problems linked with brain fog. Such as yeast infections, hypoglycemia, nutrient deficiencies, viral infections (like EBV, dental infections or Lyme), gluten, and constipation.
And, brain fog may fluctuate depending on body temperature, hydration status, your sleep cycle, exercise levels, and your menstrual cycle.
A Little More About the Maladaptive Stress Response
Let’s dive deeper into the problems associated with a maladaptive stress response.
If you’re battling chronic fatigue or burnout, there is a very good chance you have a maladaptive stress response.
This means that your adrenals have become overstimulated so much that they no longer keep up with the demands on your stress response. And fatigue sets in.
Chronic stress is the main cause of a maladaptive stress response and burnout. However, living with a chronic infection, like Epstein-Barr, can also create problems with your adrenals.
What happens with chronic stress is that your HPA-axis – the negative feedback loop between your brain and adrenals – downregulates over time. This leads to lower overall production of cortisol. And with low cortisol, you become burnt out and exhausted.
Problems like morning grogginess, a need for caffeine to get through your day, midday crashes, and sleep irregularities set in.
Fatigue Slows Down Whole Body
So, can burnout cause brain fog in women?
Yes, it absolutely can.
Because when the brain changes, when it’s struggling through oxidative stress and imbalanced hormonal signals, it’ll have trouble firing at a healthy rate.
One reason for this is that, when the adrenals slow down, liver detoxification processes slow down. Metabolic waste removal slows down (but your lab values stay normal, very important to note this too). And toxins, excess hormones, and waste continues to circulate in the blood, to the brain.
What About Your Neurotransmitters?
Brain fog can often be confused with mood disorders, such as depression or attention problems. However, neurotransmitter imbalances that cause mood disorders can also cause more brain fog.
Your brain is the control center for your neuroendocrine system – the interconnection between your neurotransmitters and hormones.
The neurotransmitters most affected by a maladaptive stress response are serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, acetylcholine and GABA.
If you’re struggling with a mood disorder, it’s also a good idea to evaluate your stress response health and resiliency. If that’s left unchecked, you could be suffering unnecessarily.
Some women are given Ritalin for brain fog, and many antidepressant medications can interfere with proper serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine production. Mood disorders don’t have to be for life, and many can be drastically improved with the right overall neuroendocrine system support.
Natural Brain Fog Busters
Remember, we want to focus first on the root cause imbalances. In this case, support for the adrenals and the stress response is key.
In fact, the adrenals must be regulated first before attempting any type of brain fog-specific treatments. Start with increasing your adrenal-friendly nutrients – magnesium, vitamin C, the B vitamins, and essential fatty acids. Zinc and vitamin D are helpful, too, as they promote a healthier immune system, reducing stress from chronic low-grade inflammation.
Always choose whole foods over supplements to ensure you’re also getting abundant antioxidants and phytonutrients. Both support overall organ and tissue health by neutralizing free radicals and nourishing any nutrient gaps you may have.
Keep Your Brain Active
Another great way to beat brain fog is to constantly be learning. When you learn, your brain is forced to make new neural connections. Your brain has the capacity to grow and change for life. It’s adaptive state is known as ‘neuroplasticity’.
Any type of learning works. Whether you want to learn how to dance, advance your career with a new course, or read up on a topic that interests you, it all counts.
Detoxes or Cleanses?
Finally, a word of caution on some popular mainstream ideas for getting rid of brain fog.
Aggressive treatments like detoxes, cleanses, herbs, chelation therapy, nutritional supplements, reflexology, fasting, deep tissue massage or acupuncture may actually make your brain fog worse.
Most women are not in a healthy, strong, balanced state nutritionally or hormonally to take on these aggressive treatments. When the toxins are released and the energies adjusted, the body will not have enough support to flush out the negative waste or energy. And it continues to circulate, creating health problems and more toxicity.
So, always make sure you’re nutritionally strong and have done a full body health assessment to make sure you aren’t missing any specific nutrients before opting for any of these solutions.