Brain fog: what it is and how to avoid it

Thinking Through The Fog

Brain fog, the feeling that your brain is somehow performing below par and even basic cognitive skills seems to require a lot of effort, is traditionally associated with neurological disorders, vascular ageing and even cognitive damaging conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

It is also the feeling experienced by seemingly healthy adults when they have tired their brain through extensive mental work. In a study published in the Journal Of Applied Physiology researchers showed how mental fatigue, induced beforehand, could impair physical performance by visibly increasing the effort required to perform specific tasks.

Responsible for the mental fatigue experienced in cases where there is no underlying pathological condition is the inhibitory neurotransmitter adenosine. Adenosine blocks the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine which affect activate the reward center in the brain and this affects our motivation.

It gets even more complicated when even the task of decision-making, on its own, appears to drain the brain’s resources and induce mental fatigue. We make decisions every day so understanding how to inoculate the brain against the effects of brain fog is key to maintaining alertness and performance levels.

Brain fog then is, in most cases, “interaction of physiological, cognitive, and perceptual factors” with some of the recognizable symptoms being:

  • memory deficiency
  • feeling unmotivated
  • lack of mental clarity
  • confusion
  • fatigue
  • inability to focus

These persist even when coffee is available in plentiful supply.

Cognitive Overload and Brain Fog

With research showing that in the U.S. alone one in five people feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information flying at them cognitive overload is a risk that is frequently overlooked.

To understand the true impact of brain fog consider that its more recognizable designation amongst professionals is clouding of consciousness. This makes brain fog threaten our very concept of consciousness and perception by affecting the cohesion of the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) that is postulated to give rise to our level of consciousness.

Experience brain fog often enough, in other words, and you slowly begin to come apart at the sides as errors in our executive decision making process accumulate.

How To Battle Brain Fog?

Luckily not all is lost. The brain can be trained to resist the effects of adenosine, hardening it against adversity and protecting it from experiencing the kind of mental exhaustion that leads to brain fog.

According to the Harvard Health review, regular exercise helps the brain learn to better manage its resources to complete specific tasks.

Self-regulation and stress-coping mechanisms that reduce anxiety and stress can also help by removing some of the underlying causes of mental exhaustion.

Using specific sniper-training mental tricks to recharge your brain on the go and to get in the flow also help the brain become better aware of the forces affecting it and engage in preventative or reparative action.

It is no longer enough to just “get on with it” without first analyzing the process, its impact, the stages, the bottlenecks, our efficiency and ways to improve it. If that sounds like we are complicating what in the past used to just be called “work”, welcome to the 21st century. Things are truly done differently here.

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