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How to Beat Brain Fog – An Evidence-Based Solution.

Walking into the kitchen and promptly forgetting what you went in there for. Knowing what you want to say, but unable to bring the correct word to the forefront of your mind. At times feeling as if your brain is totally empty, and at others, experiencing complete cognitive overload.

If you suffer a chronic pain condition, mental health disorder, or stress illness, odds are you know what brain fog is.

I’m not keen on the term brain fog. It feels more like brain ‘steam’ than fog to me. The thoughts, plans, and words evaporate as I try to capture them! But whatever you call it, there’s no denying, it is upsetting, frustrating, and detrimental to our wellbeing.

This article will examine what brain fog is, what causes it, and suggest some ways to reduce it, based on the evidence-based PETAL Plan.

What is brain fog?

Brain fog is a common symptom of many conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and stress illnesses such as migraine.

It causes issues with cognitive functioning such as poor memory, poor concentration, exhaustion, and word finding. In fact, the NICE guideline NG206 state that…

“Cognitive dysfunction (sometimes described as “brain fog”), may include problems finding words or numbers, difficulty in speaking, slowed responsiveness, short-term memory problems, and difficulty concentrating or multitasking.”

Symptoms of brain fog.

Brain fog causes issues with cognitive functioning such as creating poor memory, poor concentration, exhaustion, word finding, cognitive overload and impaired clarity of thought.

It is common to fear the worst when experiencing something like brain fog. Your focus is on what causes the issue. Because you're aware of it affecting our thinking, you fear having a brain tumour. Or maybe dementia? You think you're cracking up or losing your mind. Or that you maybe entering another flare up of nasty symptoms.


Usually, however, the cause for brain fog is more within your control.

Causes of brain fog.

The main causes for brain fog are cited as:

  • Poor sleep quality or quantity.

  • Changes in hormones.

  • Mineral deficiencies (Magnesium, Iron, Omega 3) (

  • Processed foods, saturated fats, refined sugar.

  • Dehydration.

  • Chronic pain conditions.

However, recent research indicates that it is caused by “low grade inflammation in the brain” (

Inflammation is caused by cortisol that is released into the blood stream when we are stressed. Thus, we can assume that stress is the true underlying factor. In fact, if you review the list above these all create stress on either our body or mind.

What is stress?

Stress is the result of excessive pressure being applied to an object or being. When applied over an extended period it is known as chronic stress.

In objects, this stress has physical effects. In humans, it can result in adverse effects on physical and emotional health; it has physical, behavioural, cognitive, and emotional consequences. This feels threatening.

Brain fog itself is experienced as a stressor itself. It is considered by your mind a threat. Therefore, you respond as you would to any other threat. You enter one of the 5Fs. These are Fight, Faint, Flight, Freeze, or Friend. So, brain fog is both caused by, and maintained by stress.

The great news is that there are several ways to counteract this. Each of the following suggestions aim to move your physical and emotional state into a place of safety. This allows you to reduce the stress being exerted on your body and mind.

The PETAL Plan

A feeling of safety in the body and mind depends on having lower cortisol levels, a more relaxed body, a calmer mind, and feeling able to connect and engage with people. These can be achieved by using the PETAL Plan.

The PETAL Plan was devised specially to support people in their recovery from Chronic Pain and Stress Illness. It has been instrumental in helping scores of people create a sustainable self-care strategy to stamp out stress.

The PETAL Plan is an evidence-based model which encompasses tools, techniques, and theories from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Compassion Focused Therapy, the SIRPA approach, Evolutionary Theory, and Cognitive Neuroscience.

This approach includes five key steps which address each of the 5Fs:

➺ Physical

You may try to fight brain fog by trying harder to think of what has slipped your mind. Stop trying! Putting extra stress on your mind will increase cortisol and anxiety. Reduce the pressure by taking a deep breath and mindfully returning to what you were doing before.

You may also drink more caffeinated drinks or turn to carb or refined sugars to fight the exhaustion and lack of clarity.

As these aren’t naturally occurring in the body, they are treated as stressors. They may produce a short-term result, but ultimately, they do not address the underlying cause. And can increase symptoms of anxiety and lethargy, which will further compound cognitive issues.

➺ Emotional

In some circumstances feeling anxious, a natural response, could be life threatening itself. For example, in an accident where you experience blood loss, an increase in heartrate could prove terminal. Therefore, you might unconsciously pretend to be dead, faint. This allows the heartrate and blood pressure, to drop. This can give the illusion of being dead and enable survival.

If brain fog feels too threatening, we can disengage from our emotions. This means you stop paying attention the physical sensations of emotions. Ignoring emotions don’t make them go away. They stay in the body and create a heaviness. Causing yet more stress and physical symptoms.

Allowing yourself to feel where any emotions are in the body when we experience brain fog, enables those emotions to be processed in the moment.

➺ Thoughts

You may try to take flight from the brain fog by ignoring it, or not acknowledging the thoughts we have about it.

Thoughts aren’t facts! So, checking in with your thoughts to see if they are a fact or just an opinion, can help you to relieve additional anxiety.

Do you really have dementia, or are you worried that you have it?

➺ Actions

Sometimes when you experience brain fog, you enter a freeze state. This enables you to evaluate the threat. Your thoughts become future focused, repetitive, and negative. This is known as worry.

Worries are like weed; they spread quickly, serve no purpose, and spoil the outlook.

Learning how to manage worry enables you to become unstuck and reduce the stress about brain fog.

➺ Love

It is so easy to become self-critical when we have brain fog. You may think of yourself as ‘stupid’ or ‘losing it’ or ‘cracking up’. These thoughts are usually untrue.

Reminding yourself about how well you are doing despite all the stress and juggling in your life, can feel alien. but is so helpful. Tending to yourself with the care you would afford a friend is the best gift you can give to yourself when suffering brain fog.


Brain fog is a common symptom of many conditions. It causes issues with cognitive functioning such as poor memory, poor concentration, exhaustion, and word finding. As it affects your thinking, you fear the worst, however, it is often caused by stress.

When we are stressed, the mind selects one of the 5Fs (Fight, Flight, Faint, Freeze, or Friend). Each of the 5Fs can be counteracted using the evidence-based, PETAL Plan. This in turn reduces the likelihood of brain fog occurring and the anxiety associated with it.

If you are interested to learn how to create a self-care strategy, then download my



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