Why Does One Get Brain Fog In Midlife?
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8 Reasons You Get Brain Fog During Midlife
Here at Team Vippi, we always thought that being a bit forgetful in midlife was just a feeling we had sometimes. But in the golden age of slapping labels on every feeling people have, we’ve come to learn that “brain fog” is very much a thing.
And the more we considered it, the more we realized that we experience brain fog nearly every… single… f*cking… day. But unlike most labels nowadays, brain fog is a pretty excellent descriptor.
It feels like a fog in your brain, sure – unclear thoughts and muddy cognition play a huge role. But it also has you acting as you would in foggy weather: unable to see past your most immediate task and switching your focus from one thing to the next in a rapid-fire fashion.
You know exactly how this goes down:
- You might work for a few minutes.
- But bam!💥 Suddenly your brain rushes to coffee. You must have your caffeine fix. So you get up to make coffee.
- But bam!💥 A social media notification echoes out and snaffles your attention. So you start scrolling and…
- Bam!💥 A news notification pops up on the screen about a celeb’s new baby, so you must reach out to your friend Janet, and suddenly it’s half an hour since you did any work and you still haven’t made a coffee. Dammit, Janet!
- But after the little pops of distraction, you’re left with 🌫🌫🌫🌫. Wispy smudges of the task you were supposed to complete are all that’s left. It’s gone now.
In trying to find your way, you walk in one direction, then another, and then another. You can’t establish a single path on any task or objective. It’s very easy to feel lost and confused doing the simplest things. Your brain feels constantly wrung out like a bath sponge squeezed of all water.
But these behaviors lead to even more confused thinking, and so the cycle continues. There are several reasons that brain fog hits you during midlife, including endless multitasking, stress, vision loss, and hormones.
One thing you need to remember: It doesn’t mean you’re getting dumber. This sh*t happens to everyone – but there are ways to make it easier on yourself.
Let Team Vippi guide you through this bewildering side effect of hitting midlife (if we can remember why we started this article in the first place).
The fog descends: Daily factors that contribute to brain fog
The Mist: A film about a mysterious fog full of nasty surprises that descends out of nowhere and ruins the whole day. Sound familiar?
Here’s why your brain may be letting you down.
1. Constant multitasking
Family obligations. A growing heap of professional responsibilities. A mountain of menial tasks that don’t get done unless you do them. With the amount you have to juggle, is it any wonder you can barely remember the last thing you thought of?
Life is also inherently more distracting now than it was growing up in the 80s and 90s. The modern “notification culture” turns every day into Time frickin’ Square. How is anybody supposed to focus with *dings* and flashing lights going off every 30 seconds?
If you’re constantly pinging between tasks, you’ll likely have no clear vision of ‘completion’ after finishing each objective – because you don’t. Maybe each task is minor and seemingly insignificant. But half-completing each task leaves an overhanging sense of obligation that continues to drain you long after you move on to the next.
We all think we’re champion multitaskers until we really have to multitask. This lack of focus and organizational discipline can increase brain fog. Whether it’s poor prioritization, the hunt for constant stimulation, or an ever-reducing boredom threshold, the way you respond to brain fog then feeds its effects.
The frustration that comes from feeling that nothing is ever completed eventually frustrates you and causes passive depression. Short-term memory loss also starts to creep in – there’s simply too much going on in your head. Even a computer slows down with too many tabs open.
Too much to do → Endless multitasking → Brain fog → Nothing gets completed → More brain fog
Team Vippi discovered a symptom: Foggy pain
The endless cycle of involuntary procrastination causes anxiety. This, in turn, triggers a symptom we’ll call foggy pain (well, if modern medicine can slap a label on everything, we won’t hold back either).
You may not find it in medical journals, but we know you’ve felt it – that dull pain in the head, neck, and shoulders while you try and maintain your doomed balancing act of multitasking.
Foggy pain isn’t a full-on headache. You might even hesitate to call it “pain” in the traditional sense. It’s all of your daily pressures manifesting themselves as an uncomfortable heaviness. This is the sensation of the world’s weight resting on your shoulders.
Amid the near-constant multitasking, larger responsibilities crop up during midlife that turn confusing frustration into flat-out stress.
You might be caring for older parents and your adult children at the same time. Simultaneously, you’ll have a nagging fear about what the future holds.
Are your children going to be stable and prepared for the future? Your medical checkup is next week – is your cholesterol level going to bring any nasty surprises? How is your stock portfolio doing?
What’s the next big panic around the corner?
If this question plagues your mind day in, day out, some smaller tasks are going to suffer as a result. Even on our more chilled out day, society has conditioned us to expect a huge plummet – so we’ll still get stressed out and experience brain fog. The weirdness of brain fog then adds to these larger stresses, compounding the forgetfulness.
And it’s not just the content of your thoughts that draws mental power from your internal grid. The process of worrying itself might make symptoms worse. Research has found that repeated exposure to stress hormones throughout your life might worsen your memory and make your brain misbehave.
3. Sleep issues
Have you ever woken up after a late night out with friends, headed into work at the usual time, and barely known where the hell you were? It’s not just the Pinot Grigio – a lack of sleep can seriously mess with your ability to retain short-term memory and disrupt how your brain works.
And midlife comes for your sleep pattern fast. You might wake up more often during the night to pee, spend less time in deep, restorative sleep, and find it harder to fall asleep in the first place. It’s up for debate whether this is your body talking or your mind replaying obligations on a loop. But neither is particularly helpful.
Weight gain (a near-inevitable outcome of middle age) can cause sleeplessness, as can premenopause (a completely inevitable outcome of midlife for females). Night sweats, hot flushes, and hormonal changes are part of middle age. None of them help you sleep better.
If your phone didn’t charge properly overnight and suddenly got 1,000 messages the moment you woke up, it’d run out of battery pretty fast, right? The same thing happens to a midlifer’s brain.
4. Vision loss
Hear us out. If you’re constantly trying to read the smaller text on your phone, take your glasses on and off, and squint at lists, articles, messages, and memos, foggy pain is inevitable.
Your eyes are constantly decoding everything you look at, especially when you’re reading. If they aren’t working as they should, this will make it harder to retain info.
But there are a few steps you can take to reduce eyestrain:
- Turn down the screen brightness. A great rule of thumb is that your screen should never be the brightest light source in the room – but you should still be able to read what’s on the screen. Many phones adjust automatically, but most have an easily accessible brightness slider so you can find what’s comfortable.
- Enter dark mode. Dark mode changes apps that traditionally have bright white backgrounds (like word processors or your web browser) to a darker palette that’s easier on the eyes. You can change most apps to their dark mode in your system settings.
- Increase the font size. If the text is too small, there’ll be a visual impairment setting on your smartphone to make it bigger.
- Disconnect from screens where possible. If you bounce from your work laptop to your phone to your Kindle, your eyes won’t be particularly fond of you. Spend time away from your screen. When you go back to scrolling through articles, make sure you do so with a refreshed brain.
- Go for optical checkups. If you’re wearing specs with the wrong prescription, no amount of squinting or holding your phone closer is going to help. Go see your eye doctor, and have an eye test.
Medical reasons for brain fog
Sometimes, you have to lift the hood to discover the reason your motor is sputtering. Your brain is similar.
Perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause) causes massive fluctuations in hormones. This can make brain fog worse.
Adding this to stress, which we’ve already mentioned as a potential cause of wobbly hormones, can make brain fog ever-present in your day-to-day dealings.
There’s not much you can do about this one – your body is changing. And when your body changes, the hormones telling your brain how to function change, too.
And that’s part of the reason you just forgot why you left the comfort of your favorite chair. Seriously, what was it? Ugh. Every time.
6. Vitamin B12 deficiency
This is more of a “behind-the-scenes” thing. Your body becomes less efficient at absorbing some nutrients as you get older, and B12 is one of them. B12 is crucial for healthy function in your central nervous system – a driving force behind your daily function.
In fairness, the symptoms of B12 deficiency aren’t standardized and might well lead to brain fog in some people, but not others. This also isn’t likely to contribute to the brain fog problem until later in life, so don’t go scoffing down B12 supplements unless your doc identifies deficiency as a problem.
As if dealing with your aching back, the daily barrage of tasks, and your throbbing head aren’t enough, your immune function also gradually declines over time.
This means that allergies might start to get worse as you move through midlife – or you may even develop them for the first time.
The mindful summer stroll you took to clear your head might turn into a hayfever nightmare that blocks your nose. Yet another distraction you simply didn’t need.
Forecast: Foggy with a chance of boogers.
8. Medication side effects
As you get older, you might need to take more medications for various chronic health conditions. If you have depression, for example, antidepressant medications may give you fuzzy thought processes and memory problems.
Plus, if you’re among the tragically high number of people who live with cancer, chemotherapy treatments can cause foggy thoughts. This can be so intense that it even has its own label: Chemo brain. (More labels? Are you kidding?)
Make sure you talk to your doc if you take medications and your brain fog is getting particularly bad – they may be able to suggest or prescribe a different treatment.
Are you just getting a bit forgetful? Or is it diagnosable?
Brain fog is not a condition in and of itself, but it can be a symptom of an underlying medical problem or just a general effect of midlife’s trials and tribulations.
If it’s truly messing with your life (for example, you go out to work and leave the stove on after breakfast), it might be worth mentioning brain fog to your doctor during your next checkup. The following conditions are possible causes of brain fog:
- Low iron or vitamin B12 levels
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Low function in the thyroid gland
- Sjogren’s syndrome, a disorder that causes drying of the mouth and eyes
Not all of these will affect you during midlife, so don’t start panicking. It’s more likely that your brain farts are due to stress, multitasking like a maniac, and not sleeping enough. But if you’re really struggling, it’s worth bringing these symptoms to your doctor’s attention.
Living with brain fog: Tips on coping
Anyone living a hopelessly tangled, needlessly frantic life is going to experience at least a little brain fog from time to time.
You don’t have to live with brain fog, though. Or, at the very least, you can minimize its hold over your life and stay functional despite those “D’oh!” moments.
What you can do right now
Here’s what helps Team Vippi climb Memory Mountain:
Diarize and time everything.
Plan what you need to do the next day, and write it all down. And we don’t just mean a standard to-do list – put down the timings of what you need to do.
Need to pick up a steak on the way home from work? Diarize it for 5:30 pm.
Stopping by the late-night pharmacy for your partner’s cholesterol meds? Set a timer for 9 pm.
You can put alerts in your phone to reduce the risk that you’ll miss something important (yes, yes, we know – it’s distracting, but it does remind you what needs doing).
A little forethought the night before won’t erase every instance of a blank mind during the day. But it’ll stock your arsenal with reminders so that the critical stuff doesn’t go amiss.
Be strict with time.
That plan we just mentioned? Actually stick to it. This is a separate point, because it can be tempting to procrastinate on your diarized task list – but you need to procrastinate any procrastination you had planned. The diary gets fulfilled. End of discussion.
You don’t just fill out a diary – you fulfil what’s in it.
That way, you’ll be able to stop brain fog from having any serious repercussions on your day.
Frequent breaks can help you stay focused and avoid serious memory lapses while you regroup.
We take too many “distraction breaks” that don’t do us any good. Breaks we didn’t intend to take just make us feel crappy when we return to the task at hand. You need to schedule breaks only after a reasonable amount of work gets done – and stick to them.
Maybe start with taking breaks every half hour, progress to once an hour to see how it affects your mental state, then level up to breaks every hour and a half when you need to get productive.
Learn the art of priority management.
What needs to be done now? What can wait? Why are you doing a fraction of everything you need to do at the same time? Slow down.
Certain apps and websites like Todoist, Google Keep, Monday.com, and Asana can help you structure your day through task labeling, smart to-do lists, and regular notifications.
Breathing fresh air helps.
If everything is getting on top of you, get outside. Breathe in that O2. Take a second and recenter yourself.
Fresh air brings clarity.
It’s not just about daily fixes – long-term lifestyle adjustments can help you stay mentally sharp.
None of these tips are going to immediately remind you of the reason you entered the room. But they can give your brain the best shot at staying on-point.
- Sleep at regular times and for 8–9 hours per night (where your bladder permits). Lying awake worrying about sh*t is just going to make your problems twice as bad in the morning because you’ll be less equipped to deal with them.
- Stress management is essential. Allowing yourself to boil over will have you tripping over tasks, which feeds back into your stress. Enjoy long baths, chilled-out strolls around the neighborhood, or even just kicking back with a comedy on Netflix. It’s not all meditation and yoga (although either of those can help, too). Take a break from your responsibilities and enjoy yourself
- According to Harvard Medical School, exercise can boost your mood, improve your memory, and keep your sleep cycle regular. Exercise might be the tool that keeps your brain on track.
- Keeping your brain active can help it stay supple. Apps like Lumosity, A Clockwork Brain, and Eidetic can help you prevent your think tank from idling.
Brain fog can be a thorn in the side of midlifers. It can happen as a result of prolonged stress, relentless multitasking, or natural changes in your body as you age.
But with planning, discipline, and a little self-care, you can retain those thoughts in your head and smash through your to-do list.
Team Vippi knows how you feel – but also know that you can take a few steps to reduce brain fog’s risk and effects.
Aging changes in sleep. (n.d.). https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/004018.htm
Burtchell, J. (2020). Fighting post-treatment fog: Chemo brain explained. https://www.healthline.com/health/chemo-brain#1
Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills. (2021). https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-can-boost-your-memory-and-thinking-skills
Higuera, V. (2018). https://www.healthline.com/health/brain-fog#treatment
Is it possible to suddenly develop allergies? (2020). https://www.susquehannahealth.org/in-the-community/blog/is-it-possible-to-suddenly-develop-allergies
Nery de Souza-Talarico, J., et al. (2011). Effects of stress hormones on the brain and cognition: Evidence from normal to pathological aging. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5619133/
Vitamin B12. (2021). https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/