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Memory and Brain Fog

Part I: A series on concentration, attention, memory.

Key points

  • Individuals with “brain fog” often report feeling "fuzzy," tired, or admit to having difficulty concentrating or remembering common things.
  • Concentration is the ability to focus your attention on a single thought or object while not being distracted.
  • Attention is the brain’s effort to prioritize the bottleneck of incoming sensory information from the environment.

“The way we eat, sleep, work, and live is flooding, starving, clogging, and disrupting our brains by destabilizing the levels of three crucial brain chemicals: serotonin, dopamine, and cortisol. We experience these biological problems as brain fog, scatterbrain, memory loss, fatigue, anxiety, and the blues. Over time, they turn into chronic insomnia, significant depression, persistent anxiety, and, potentially, dementia”.

― Mike Dow, The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory, and Joy in Just 3 Weeks

Part one of a two part series on memory, concentration, attention and brain fog.

What is brain fog?

We can’t talk about memory without first discussing “brain fog”.

  • “Did I lock my door?”
  • “Where are my keys?”
  • “Where did I park my car?”
  • “What can’t I remember that person’s name?”

These are regular questions we ask ourselves on a daily basis. Regardless of how many years of education we have under out belts or how many hours we sleep each night, it seems that we have days where we are constantly going in circles and spending days on end wondering why our brains seem so “foggy”

We have all been there: you exit the grocery store and can’t remember where you parked your car, you misplace your keys or phone on busy mornings trying to get out the door, and you read the same passage in a book repeatedly but absorb nothing of what you read.

Or maybe you ever feel like you are sleepwalking through your days if you are going through the physical motions but are totally unaware of your thoughts or actions that precede or follow these tasks? Our minds get a bit hazy when we are tired, overworked or stress. It seems we can’t think clearly. This is brain fog, also called mental fatigue. Although brain fog is not a medical term, it is a commonly used terms to describe a set of symptoms affecting the cognitive process. Periods of brain fog can roll in like huge waves and prevent us from thinking clearly, performing daily tasks, holding conversations, and concentrating.

Individuals with “brain fog” often report feeling fuzzy, tired, or admit to having difficulty concentrating or remembering common things. Brain fog can result in even the simplest tasks becoming a major challenge. Brain fog can cause many problems with your concentration, attention, and memory, which can affect your work performance and cause a rift in your social life. We become more stressed, fatigued and our bodies hold this negative energy resulting in muscle pain, headaches, and digestive problems.

What causes brain fog?

  • Changes in hormones
  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • Diet
  • Medication
  • Medical conditions (Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Thyroid disorders, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, depression, anxiety, etc.).

Concentration, memory and attention: You can’t have one without the other

  • Do you ever feel like you have to read something over and over again in order to remember it?
  • Or do you find yourself repeatedly asking the same question?
  • Or maybe you continually misplace your keys, your wallet or your checkbook?

Concentration is the ability to focus your attention on a single thought or object while not being distracted. Also known as a state of sustained focus. If you are concentrating hard on an activity, you become oblivious to your other surroundings as you are truly concentrating on the task at hand. Since we live in a world full of technology and multi-tasking, we often are doing too many things at once, therefore not being able to properly concentrate and as a result, our thoughts become scattered and we may even forget what we are doing in the moment.

Attention is the brain’s effort to prioritize the bottleneck of incoming sensory information from the environment. A way by which only the most relevant and important information is focused on, and the rest, the background noise, is “ignored”. Attention is a more fluid overall approach to concentration. It is an on and off activity and we can choose to pay attention to something or not.

When we are distracted, we are quick to lose focus as our attention is easily shifted. We become distracted by outside or background stimuli or even by our internal thoughts. Inattention can be a consequence of distractibility.

Why does this happen? Oftentimes when we come across the terms, “inattentiveness and distractibility” we think of attention-deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a common behavioral disorder that is often diagnosed in children and teenagers.

We live in a sensory overloaded society, and many of us lose focus and attention because we are simply too overwhelmed by our environment and internal thoughts.

What is your attention span?

The length of time you can focus before you become bored or before your brain becomes “foggy”. Attention varies with the type of activity for example, if you are doing a mundane task such as cleaning, you may get distracted more easily if you were doing a challenging task such as skiing or fixing the sink. But this also varies from person to person

It is important to be able to recognize the factors that rob our focus and then learn to adopt to the skills needed to improve our concentration, as these can have a positive impact on our memory. Sharpening our focus and attention can improve our memory as attention is an essential, first ingredient for a good memory.

There are many factors that can adversely affect our focus and limit our ability to concentrate.

    Often times when we become stressed or when our brain becomes “foggy”, we have a hard time recalling our short term and long term memory and we often become worried that “we are losing our minds”. Our minds (and memory) are probably just fine, rather it is our concentration and attention that is the problem. When we are stressed, distracted, tired or charged with emotion, our concentration and attention span becomes hindered. If we are unable to concentrate on new information or stimuli, we will not be able to process this information and store it in our memory.