Depression and brain fog

Exploring the connection between depression and brain fog: the impact it can have and how you can cope with it.

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Have you ever felt like your thoughts get lost in a mental ‘fog’? This fog, known as ‘brain fog’, often goes hand in hand with depression.

Here, we’ll explore what brain fog is, how it’s linked to depression, and the things you can do to minimise brain fog and think more clearly. Whether you’re dealing with depression yourself or supporting a loved one, understanding depression brain fog is important for finding clarity and effective solutions.

What is brain fog?

Brain fog is a term that’s used to describe a mental state that involves confusion, forgetfulness and a lack of mental clarity. People experiencing brain fog often have difficulty concentrating, thinking clearly and remembering things. It can make daily tasks and decision making more challenging and it’s often associated with a feeling of mental ‘haziness’ or your brain feeling generally ‘foggy’.

Brain fog can result from a number of things, including stress, a lack of sleep, medical conditions and sometimes as a symptom of depression or side effect of certain medications.

Can depression cause brain fog?

When you’re living with depression, the impact it can have on you isn’t just limited to your emotions; it can extend to your cognitive abilities too. This is known as cognitive dysfunction, and it’s a key symptom of depression. According to this study, featured in the Annals of General Psychiatry, up to 94% of people with depression report experiencing cognitive dysfunction, or brain fog.

This happens when the persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness and fatigue associated with depression are also accompanied by:

  • Difficulties in concentration
  • Impaired decision making and being unable to multitask or prioritise things
  • Slower reactions
  • Problems recalling information and words – find out more about depression and memory loss
  • Feeling as though your thought processes are sluggish and less efficient
  • Feeling as though you can’t think clearly

Collectively, these are all signs of brain fog. While it might not be obvious to other people, the inner experience of navigating daily tasks and responsibilities can be really difficult when you’re dealing with depression and brain fog.

Medication brain fog

When it comes to addressing and treating depression, you might be prescribed medication for depression. Antidepressant medication might include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as sertraline. However, while SSRIs can be highly effective when it comes to managing depressive symptoms, they can also have their own side effects, including brain fog.

If you’re taking SSRIs, you might experience cognitive difficulties, such as:

  • Problems concentrating
  • Memory lapses
  • Feeling mentally hazy

Therefore, if you were already experiencing brain fog symptoms, it’s possible that these might become slightly worse if you start taking SSRIs such as sertraline. On the other hand, if you weren’t experiencing brain fog before you started taking antidepressants, it’s possible that you might start to experience this as a result of your medication.

If you’re worried about the impact that your depression medication is having on your mental clarity, it’s really important that you talk to your doctor about this. They’ll be able to discuss your symptoms and tailor treatment to your needs.

Other side effects of SSRIs, such as sertraline, might include:

  • Nausea
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness

However, it’s important to understand that not everyone will have these responses to sertraline and SSRIs, and side effects can vary from person to person.

How long can depression brain fog last?

The duration of depression-related brain fog can be different for each person. For some, it might be a temporary and occasional symptom, while for others, it can persist for an extended period of time.

In general, when people get help for their depression, they often notice an improvement in their cognitive functions, including reduced brain fog, as their symptoms are being managed. However, if your depression is left untreated or if your depression is severe, brain fog can be more persistent.

That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to speak to a healthcare professional to address your depression and any associated brain fog. With proper support, it’s likely that you’ll experience a significant reduction in cognitive difficulties over time.

Dealing with depression brain fog

Dealing with depression brain fog can be challenging. However, there are things you can do to make it more manageable.

  • Self-care – make sure you prioritise your own self-care. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, exercising and making sure you get enough sleep. These habits can all contribute to better mental clarity and wellbeing
  • Mindfulness and relaxation techniques – engaging in mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing and relaxation techniques can all help to boost your mood, improve your symptoms and reduce brain fog
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) strategies – a gold standard in treatment for depression is CBT. You could work with a therapist to develop cognitive strategies for managing brain fog. This might include techniques to reframe negative thoughts and improve concentration
  • Break tasks into smaller steps – when you’re faced with challenging tasks, you could try breaking them down into smaller, more manageable steps. Also, try to be realistic when you’re planning your day – try not to cram too much in. This can help to reduce cognitive overwhelm and means you can focus on one thing at a time
  • Be patient – it’s really important to be patient and don’t be too hard on yourself. Dealing with brain fog can be frustrating, but remember that it’s a symptom of depression and can improve with time and treatment
  • Get support – addressing the root cause of your brain fog is essential. You could reach out to your GP, or a private depression treatment provider, like Priory. You’ll be able to discuss treatment options for depression, which may include therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Professional support can help to reduce your brain fog as your depression symptoms improve

Everyone’s experience with depression-related brain fog is unique, so finding the right combination of strategies that work for you is essential.

Getting the support you need from family, friends and healthcare professionals can be invaluable on your journey towards managing brain fog and depression.

Blog reviewed by Anthony Fafiolu (MBBS, CCST in Intellectual Disability Psychiatry, MRCP UK, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Bristol.

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