Do you ever have moments when you just can’t seem to process what’s going on? You can’t think clearly, remember what you need to do, find the right words, or make a decision. Your brain seems muddy and overloaded. This situation happens to all of us sometimes. It’s called “brain fog.” In this article, we’ll look at what causes it and what to do about it.

Brain fog can be the result of fatigue, dehydration, pregnancy, or a reaction to chemotherapy. It could be from low blood sugar, anemia, metal toxicity, or a serious medical situation such as fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, cancer, or brain injury. If you have constant or increasing symptoms, it’s wise to check with your doctor to rule out that second group. Most often, for most of us, brain fog is intermittent and the result of stress.

Not only is stress a major cause of intermittent brain fog, it is also a contributing factor in all the conditions above. When your body is under stress not only is your mental function compromised, but so is your digestion, your immune response, and your ability to detoxify, repair, and regenerate on a cellular level.

Why is that?

When your brain is overloaded with information or the demands on your time, energy, and attention are too great, your brain will switch into “survival mode.” The emotional processing center in your mid-brain sends signals to your pituitary and adrenal glands to produce stress hormones that shift your body into high gear to deal with the perceived pressures or threats. As the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, rush through your system they initiate a cascade of physiological effects: your higher brain functions of complex focused attention, learning, and problem solving are shutdown, while blood is shunted away from your internal organs to prepare your limbs for action.

Your stress response relates to brain fog in two ways, immediately and over time. The immediate effect is that your ability to think clearly, weigh alternatives, and make complex decisions is severely compromised in favor of being able to react instinctively and quickly to external dangers. If your stress response is prolonged over time, free radical and chemical damage begins to have a degenerative effect on learning, memory, and decision-making centers in your brain.

Furthermore, if your stress response is activated by chronic psychological fears or persistent feelings of anxiety, your stress hormones may never fully shutdown. You may be on low-grade alert most of the time. In that case, neuro-degeneration can become severe. Not only might you begin to lose your mental capacities but you also set yourself up for more life-threatening conditions.

If you find yourself plagued by brain fog, the time to catch it and do something about it is “as early as possible.” The sooner you address the issue of stress the easier it is for your body to downshift into recovery mode and activate natural repair mechanisms that will bring your mental and physical capacities back online. Your body and brain have amazing abilities to regenerate if given the opportunity.