Is your thinking less clear or sharp than it used to be? Are you mentally exhausted or sluggish for no apparent reason? If so, you may be among an increasing number of people suffering from brain fog.

Feeling unfocused, tired, and distracted is normal in certain situations; perhaps you’ve had a few sleepless nights, are stressed about an upcoming work deadline, or are still recovering from a bout of illness such as COVID or the flu.

But when brain fog persists over an extended period, with no obvious direct cause, it may be a reason for concern.

Your social life, productivity, and ability to enjoy your hobbies can all suffer when battling a lethargic brain.

What exactly is brain fog, and why is it so prevalent? What causes our thought processes to slow down and become muddled, and what can we do about it?

What is brain fog: a social phenomenon or medical condition?

Brain fog is not technically a medically diagnosable condition. It describes a collection of symptoms with several possible underlying causes.

Brain fog typically involves inattentiveness, poor concentration and memory, and a lack of mental clarity. Some people also feel sleepy or fatigued, despite getting adequate sleep.

One potential contributor to brain fog is the global pandemic. A Harvard cognitive clinic reported that about 22 per cent – 32 per cent of patients seeking help for uncharacteristic forgetfulness and poor concentration might be experiencing the lingering effects of long COVID.

Poor memory, executive functioning, and mental sharpness are common lingering side effects of serious coronavirus infections. However, researchers still don’t understand exactly how or why this occurs.

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Direct links to the virus aside, brain fog can also result from the global social and lifestyle shifts that began in 2020.

Sabina Brennan, a neuroscientist and author of Beating Brain Fog: Your 30-Day Plan to Thinking Faster, Sharper, Better, explained that disruptions to our routines severely reduce our thinking abilities.

Our brain’s cerebral cortex is responsible for conscious thought and uses an enormous amount of energy to operate. To make thinking more efficient, the brain constantly scans for patterns to automate cognitive tasks, freeing up mental energy for more important, novel, and creative thoughts.

This explains how certain processes eventually become habitual, like brushing your teeth before bed or washing your hands after using the bathroom. If we needed to think about and consciously make these decisions every time, we would end up exhausted and feel mentally overwhelmed by the most mundane tasks. Sound familiar?

The staggering disruption to everyone’s way of living at the start of 2020 shattered deeply ingrained routines and dissolved the structure our brains relied on to free up energy for deep thinking.

While the threat of COVID-19 hasn’t disappeared, most people are now returning to their previous pace of living and working. This shift has created a new challenge and disrupted our new ‘normal’ routines, giving our brains yet another challenge to overcome and adjust to.

It’s perfectly natural, then, that some people are struggling with brain fog as they return to a semblance of normal.