Does Anxiety Cause Brain Fog?

Anxiety and Brain Fog

Struggling with a lack of concentration, muddied thinking, forgetfulness, memory problems, or other cognitive concerns? Occasional bouts of brain fog may be due to lack of sleep, overeating unhealthy foods, or the lingering aftermath of COVID-19. But, in certain cases of brain fog, there may be another underlying factor at work: anxiety.

Anxiousness is characterized by a range of symptoms, both relatively minor (feelings of nervousness, tendency to predict the worst, or physical symptoms like muscle tension) and more serious (panic attacks and suicidal thoughts). Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the country, affecting more than 40 million American adults (and disproportionately prevalent among women, teens, and those with ADD/ADHD).

When anxiety monopolizes the brain, other tasks suffer—including processing information, concentration, paying attention, and remembering. The result can feel like brain fog. Click To Tweet

THE ANXIETY-BRAIN FOG CONNECTION

The brain SPECT imaging work at Amen Clinics indicates that people with increased activity in the basal ganglia are vulnerable to anxiety. Other brain imaging research shows that ongoing stress actually causes shrinkage in the brain’s hippocampus, a region involved in the formation of memories. When anxiety takes over, the brain may not have the required capacity for other mental tasks, and a stress overload may decrease the generation of those neurons that typically form in the hippocampus.

In other words, an onslaught of anxiety can cause problems with how the brain functions and how it retains information. When anxiety monopolizes the brain, other tasks suffer—including processing information, concentration, paying attention, and remembering. The result can feel like brain fog, a state that causes people to act spaced-out, distracted, or forgetful.

SPECT can help determine if brain fog is anxiety-related, or if it might point to a serious long-term issue, such as dementia. SPECT is a functional brain imaging technology that measures blood flow and activity in the brain and reveals areas with healthy levels of activity, or too much or too little activity. Because brain fog can point to a bigger problem (for example, if it has persisted and/or worsened over time or is starting to seriously interfere with everyday tasks), it’s important to pinpoint the root causes and develop an appropriate treatment plan as needed.

3 TECHNIQUES TO CALM ANXIETY AND CLEAR BRAIN FOG

In some cases, it’s possible to clear brain fog and optimize cognitive function through brain healthy dietary choices, such as consuming filtered water, antioxidant-rich foods, and lean proteins, while aiming for the optimal nutrition-packed calorie counts on a daily basis. Additionally, nutritional supplements, including GABA, can help calm an overactive brain.

But if anxiety, specifically, is at the root of brain fog symptoms, there are a variety of practices designed to help tackle that issue. A number of studies, for example, have shown that holistic and natural solutions—think yoga, tai chi, biofeedback, and meditation—are often helpful, and usually can be undertaken without the risk of negative side effects.

Rather than reaching for anti-anxiety medications, which can carry serious side effects, try these techniques to lessen anxiety and thus free up some brainpower for healthier brain functioning:

1. Try diaphragmatic breathing.

Did you know stress negatively affects your breathing? Rapid, shallow breaths—common during bouts of anxiety—can actually impact the blood’s oxygen levels and increase anxiety further. Calm your nervous system by repeating 10 cycles of this diaphragmatic breathing cycle: Inhale through the nose for 3 seconds, hold for 1 second, exhale for 6 seconds, and hold for 1 second. A bevy of research shows that diaphragmatic breathing practices are associated with reducing the negative consequences of stress, with the added benefit of improving cognitive performance.

2. Connect with your spiritual side.

Saying a prayer or meditating can help distract a brain that’s riddled with worry, while also stimulating prefrontal cortex activity (an area of the brain associated with focus). Even reading religious or spiritual texts, writing out personal prayers or gratitude lists, chanting, or memorizing inspirational passages can work to calm stress. A review of 32 clinical studies showed that religious practices such as these were associated with reduced anxiety.

3. Decrease the stress response.

Tactics like hypnosis, guided imagery, or progressive muscle relaxation may mitigate anxiety and even offer up ancillary benefits like better sleep. Alternatively, soothing music may help calm the brain, reduce anxiety, and sharpen focus. Aim for tunes with a slower tempo (between 60 and 80 beats per minute) versus more aggressive genres (120 to 200 or more beats per minute). You can even compile your own relaxing playlist with happy-making melodies—simply press “play” in those moments when stress threatens to overwhelm.

If calming anxiousness with these strategies doesn’t alleviate brain fog, it’s a good idea to consider getting a memory evaluation to determine what’s causing your symptoms.

Brain fog, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

4 Comments »

  1. Thank you for a great article.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — July 11, 2022 @ 3:43 AM

  2. The content and message of this article comports with the actual recommended brain health improvement plan recommended by the Amen Dallas clinic where my SPECT scan was completed. I am experiencing improved brain health , in large part to understanding and managing my own anxiety.

    Comment by Gatt Rick — July 11, 2022 @ 4:20 AM

  3. I am a second world war survivor and have just lost my love to cognitive decline.
    Your articles are of such help. I follow your advice and suggestions and they help to calm me down,
    Thank you.

    Comment by Edith Foley — July 11, 2022 @ 7:34 AM

  4. This year is the first time I’ve personally had to deal with the effects of anxiety. It has proven to be a scary unnatural way to live ..Your description of the condition is accurate . Xanax works but is highly addictive so this is not a option for me . I need real tangible help to get thru this .

    Comment by Wilbert Rogers — July 13, 2022 @ 4:57 PM

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