Experiencing Brain Fog: Is It Stress or Perimenopause?

Many people are familiar with that bleary “Monday-at-2 PM” feeling; you’re sluggish, your thoughts are at half-speed, your to-do list looms, and you’ve just realized you forgot to answer an important email last week. It’s tough to stay organized when you just don’t feel with it. Brain fog can be all this and more: mental fuzziness, forgetfulness, exhaustion, and lack of motivation. But where does brain fog come from - and can it be a sign of something more than just a ‘case of the Mondays’? 

Brain fog isn’t a condition or diagnosis in and of itself, but it can be a symptom of other health concerns such as anxiety, nutritional deficiency, thyroid issues, blood sugar imbalances, or fibromyalgia. It’s more than simple tiredness or a single forgotten errand - it’s an ongoing pattern of cognitive dysfunction that can include memory lapses, difficulty with focus and concentration, and mental exhaustion. Brain fog can be caused by physical or emotional factors such as stress or hormonal changes. The onset of perimenopause, which is a transitive period including the beginning of hormonal changes that signal the approach of menopause and the end of the female reproductive period, may present with new challenges such as difficulty regulating mood, hot flashes - and brain fog. 

The effects of stress on your body and mind

It’s too soon for comprehensive scientific studies on the psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the general population. However, those surveyed are reporting the debilitating impact of ongoing stress, such as a reduction in energy, “quarantine brain”, increases in mental health struggles such as feelings of anxiety or depression, and even some physical stress symptoms such as increased heartbeat, shortness of breath, and rashes. Due to drastic changes in routine, environment, and health-related anxiety, brain fog is firmly centered in the mosaic of 2020’s common personal difficulties.   

Aside from the COVID-19 pandemic, each of our modern, busy lives have notable breadth for worry: family life, romance and partnerships, work, finances, commutes, and many other personal concerns can cause anxious feelings. The debilitating effects of stress are exacerbated when life is out of balance in some aspect, whether that’s inadequate sleep, missing a variety of nutritious foods in your diet, or not enough physical activity and time spent outside. 

When your flight-or-fight mode is triggered due to a stressor, your endocrine system releases adrenaline and a hormone called cortisol, both of which work to prepare your body to react to threats. However, with ongoing exposure to a stress-causing trigger, the increased cortisol levels in your body can heighten the intensity and duration of your physical stress symptoms. A balanced lifestyle helps support our bodily resilience when it comes to stressors. When we are off-kilter, the effects of stress may be more acute, resulting in disruptive experiences such as brain fog. 

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Perimenopause and brain fog 

Depending on your age, you may not be considering the approach of “the change,” but perimenopause could be the cause of your brain fog: although it usually starts after 40 years of age, perimenopause can begin unexpectedly in your mid-30s. It’s the transitive time between when your hormones begin to shift and when you hit menopause (which is when twelve consecutive months have passed since you last menstruated), and can last anywhere from months to years. Early symptoms may include changes in your menstrual cycle, hot flashes, disrupted sleep patterns, mood fluctuations, and cognitive and memory lapses. 

How to narrow down your brain fog factors

So, if you’ve been experiencing fuzzy-headed days, how can you tell which aspect of your life, routine, or health might be inciting brain fog? It can be difficult, especially if you’re both approaching menopausal age as well as parrying ongoing stress triggers. (And if so, you’re an everyday superhero.) The first thing you may wish to do is sit down and reflect if any other signs of perimenopause have been cropping up lately. 

A habit that can serve you well is tracking any new or unusual signs of cognitive disconnect through a  journal or a note app on your digital device. Taking note of the date, time, and a short description can help you piece together patterns, especially if your memory is being affected, as well as be useful to your physician should you check in with them regarding your brain fog. Keeping notes can also help you cross-reference against other factors to figure out the where, when, and why of your brain fog. 

Easy shifts to help manage your brain fog

If you and your care provider believe that your brain fog is part of premature perimenopause, you may wish to discuss medical treatment options with them, such as hormone therapy. However, just as sub-optimal lifestyle habits can exacerbate symptoms of stress, there are some simple, natural steps you can take that may bolster your mind and body. The best part is, these steps can help whether your brain fog is related to perimenopause, stress, or both. 

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