What is ADHD Brain Fog? Causes, Symptoms, 10 Tips & Treatment

May 30, 20247 min
A man with a brain fog

What is ADHD? 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by difficulties with concentrating or sustaining attention on a task, impulsivity in thoughts and behaviors, and difficulty in staying still for long periods. 

It's a neurodevelopmental condition that usually shows up early in life, even before kids start school. Even though the symptoms are present since childhood,  sometimes it is not noticed or diagnosed until later. 

ADHD can make it harder to deal with different areas of life, like school, work, or making friends. Over the past decade, we've started viewing ADHD as neurodivergence, i.e., a difference in how people's brains function rather than a disorder. 

Neurodivergence encompasses various brain differences, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, emphasizing both strengths and challenges. Neurodivergent individuals often perceive the world differently from neurotypical peers.

To Understand This Better, Let’s Use An Example:

In Mrs. Gupta's third-grade class, at St. Mary's School, the bell rings, signaling it's time for lunch. "Alright, everyone, let's line up quietly," she announces. 

The neurotypical children spring into action, forming a straight line near the classroom door. Raj, Priya, and Anjali seamlessly join the queue, chatting softly as they wait their turn. 

Meanwhile, across the room, Arjun, a neurodivergent child, feels a fog settling in his mind as Mrs. Gupta's words reach him. He blinks, trying to process the instructions amidst the buzzing of his classmates and the shuffling of papers. 

With a furrowed brow, Arjun scans the room, attempting to decipher what the other children are doing. However, the fog in his mind makes it hard to focus on Mrs. Gupta's words and the social cues around him simultaneously. As his classmates begin to form a line, Arjun hesitates.

His brain feels like it's wrapped in cotton wool, slowing down his thoughts. He wants to join the line, but the fog obscures his clarity, leaving him feeling lost amidst the commotion. 

Finally, after a few moments, Arjun gathers his resolve and steps towards the door. His movements are hesitant, his steps unsure. Mrs. Gupta notices his delay and offers him a reassuring smile as he joins the line, understanding that sometimes, the fog in Arjun's mind makes following instructions a bit harder.

What is ADHD Brain Fog?

Have you had the experience where car windows get covered with fog when you are driving down a road in cold temperatures? Experiencing brain fog is a similar sensation. 

The person may feel stumped by an abrupt shift in their thinking - within a few seconds, the mind can move from thinking clearly to as if it is covered with a thick blanket of fog. 

Naturally, this experience can leave someone feeling restless, helpless, and anxious as the brain fog can last anywhere between a few minutes to some days.  

Some signs that the person with ADHD is experiencing brain fog include: 

  1. State of confusion in thoughts
  2. Not being able to think clearly 
  3. Difficulty concentrating or paying attention 
  4. Difficulty in carrying out decisions 
  5. Forgetfulness 
  6. Fatigue or feeling tired
  7. Daydreaming 
  8. Feelings of being disconnected from the current reality

Here we covered the Symptoms of ADHD in detail.

Difference between ADHD Brain Fog and Tiredness

Normal tiredness is a common experience that typically occurs after physical exertion or a lack of sleep. It's characterized by feelings of fatigue, sleepiness, and a general sense of low energy.

Rest, sleep, and relaxation usually alleviate normal tiredness. It's often temporary and can be resolved with proper rest and self-care practices.

ADHD Brain fog is a cognitive feature characterized by difficulty concentrating, memory issues, confusion, and a feeling of mental fogginess. It may occur independently of physical tiredness and might persist even after getting adequate rest. Unlike normal tiredness, brain fog may not necessarily improve with rest alone. It can significantly impact daily functioning, making it challenging to focus, think clearly, or remember things.

Why does ADHD Brain Fog Occur?

As a parent to a neurodivergent kid or even a neurodivergent adult reading this, one may wonder what constitutes these differences and why one experiences constant difficulties in planning, organizing, or brain fog when their peers may not be experiencing it. 

This brain fog may occur due to various factors associated with ADHD, including:

1.  Neurotransmitter Imbalances: 

Imagine your brain is like a big playground, and neurotransmitters are the messengers who tell everyone what to do. Sometimes, these messengers get mixed up and don't send the right messages, which can make things a little confusing for the brain. 

The two neurotransmitters implicated in ADHD brain fog are as follows: 

  • Dopamine: This neurotransmitter plays a crucial role in reward, motivation, and executive function. ADHD is often linked to lower levels of dopamine activity in the brain, particularly in areas responsible for attention and self-regulation.
  • Norepinephrine: This neurotransmitter is involved in alertness and arousal. It helps regulate attention, response time, and focus. Imbalances or deficiencies in norepinephrine can result in issues with maintaining attention and alertness, also contributing to the feeling of brain fog.

2. Body Functions: 

Neurodivergents often are more prone to experiencing brain fog as a result of neurochemical differences. However, if there are sleep disturbances such as lack of sleep, spikes, and lows in appetite, eating less or more, and fluctuations in movement all may contribute to aggravating ADHD brain fog.

3. Stress:

Dealing with continuous stressors such as challenging tasks at work or difficult conversations in interpersonal relationships may also increase the chances of ADHD brain fog. 

Many people have this confusion: Is ADHD a Mental Health or Learning Disability?

10 Tips to Manage ADHD Brain Fog

ADHD brain fog can make one feel tired and frustrated, and it can make it difficult to make decisions (even the simplest ones like ‘What should I have for dinner?’). When experiencing brain fog, it takes more effort than usual to put attention on tasks, making every cognitive task an uphill battle. Dealing with sudden experiences of Brain Fog can be exhausting but here are ten tips to help manage ADHD-related brain fog, along with detailed explanations and examples:

1.Establish Routine: 

Stick to a daily routine to provide structure and consistency. For example, set specific times for waking up, meals, work/study sessions, exercise, and bedtime. Routines can help reduce decision-making overload and improve focus. Research demonstrates a high impact of knowing good sleep practices in managing ADHD. Turn on blue light blockers on screens in the evenings, and try to sleep in a cool and comfortable environment. 

2.Break Tasks into Smaller Steps: 

Break down larger tasks or projects into smaller, manageable steps. This makes tasks feel less overwhelming and helps maintain focus. For instance, if you have to clean your room, break it down into steps like picking up clothes, organizing books, and tidying up the desk.

3.Use External Reminders: 

Utilize tools such as alarms, timers, calendars, and to-do lists to remind you of important tasks and deadlines. For example, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take breaks during study sessions,  use a whiteboard to write down daily tasks, etc.

4.Practice Deep Breathing: 

Incorporate deep breathing exercises daily in your routine. One can begin by inhaling a long deep breath through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Breathing deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system of our body, promoting a sense of calm which may help in dissipating the brain fog. 

5.Stay Hydrated and Eat Nutritious Foods:

Drink plenty of water throughout the day and maintain a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid excessive caffeine, especially in the evenings, and sugary foods, which may worsen brain fog. Eating nutritious meals may support reducing brain fog at the moment and alleviate overall brain health and cognitive function.

6.Get Regular Exercise:

Engage in regular physical activity, such as walking, jogging, yoga, or cycling, to boost mood, increase energy levels, and improve cognitive function. Exercise stimulates the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which may help alleviate brain fog.

7.Manage Stress:

Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as practicing relaxation techniques, spending time in nature, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy. High levels of stress can worsen attention and hyperactivity levels and contribute to brain fog, so it's essential to prioritize stress management.

8.Limit Distractions: 

Create a conducive environment for focus by minimizing distractions. This may involve setting up a quiet workspace, using noise-canceling headphones, or blocking distracting websites and apps while working or studying.

9.Seek Social Support: 

Connect with friends, family members, or support groups who understand your challenges and can offer encouragement and assistance. Sharing experiences and strategies with others can provide valuable support and feedback in managing ADHD-related brain fog.

10.Consider Professional Help:

If ADHD-related brain fog significantly impacts daily functioning and quality of life, consider seeking professional help from a healthcare provider or therapist specializing in ADHD. At Mave Health, we have a team of Mental Health Professionals who practice a neurodivergent-affirmative approach and are building grounding-breaking technology for managing symptoms of anxiety, and depression and enhancing frontal lobe brain functions such as attention, and concentration. Know the role of therapy in the treatment of ADHD.

It's better to know the difference between ADHD and OCD before you get this question, Do I have OCD or ADHD?

Conclusion

Experiencing ADHD brain fog can feel confusing and tiring. It can feel like an announced guest right in the middle of completing an important task. By implementing these tips into your daily life, you can better manage ADHD-related brain fog and improve overall cognitive function and well-being. Remember that finding what works best for you may require some trial and error, so be patient and persistent in your efforts.

References:

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Stanborough, R.. (2022, January 26). How to Manage ADHD Brain Fog: Tips and Treatment Options.

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Author's Profile picture
Anvita Sethi
Psychologist | Trauma Informed Therapist | M.Sc. Clinical Psychology