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How Your Reduced Mental Clarity Tells Much About Your Health Conditions

How Your Reduced Mental Clarity Tells Much About Your Health Conditions

Ever have those moments where it feels like you just can’t think straight? When it comes the end of a very long day or after an intense mental activity, you feel tired, unfocused, and can’t seem to get your head in the game. That haze of mental obscurity is what many refer to as brain fog.

The most common symptoms associated with brain fog are:

  • Inability to focus
  • Poor memory
  • Trouble learning new things
  • Feeling “groggy” or confused
  • Daydreaming
  • Difficulty finding the right word
  • Saying one word but meaning another
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety

The causes of brain fog generally fall into one of two main categories — either it’s lifestyle-related or a side effect of a medical condition or medication. The most common causes, by far, are related to nutritional and biochemical imbalances that affect the brain and central nervous system of the body, which can be easily corrected with a few lifestyle changes.

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How To Prevent Brain Fog

1. Proper nutrition

Refined carbohydrates like sugar and high fructose corn syrup allow your blood sugar levels to quickly skyrocket followed by the dreaded and severe crash. Your brain uses blood glucose as its main source of fuel. This puts your brain on a roller coaster ride — first too much, then too little glucose. Low brain glucose leads to brain fog, mood swings, irritability, tiredness, mental confusion, and impaired judgment.

Another mentally devastating diet fad is one that is too low in fat. Your brain is largely comprised of fat — about 60% by dry weight — and research shows low-fat diets have been disastrous for our brains. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a leading expert in non-pharmaceutical applications to chronic illnesses and author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working, the brain starts to literally “digest itself” for the raw materials it needs to create essential brain chemicals when you don’t eat enough dietary fat.

In order to stave off brain fog, eat foods that are rich in good fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds, and avocados. Foods rich in vitamin E and antioxidants such as blueberries work wonders in sustaining good mental health both long and short term.

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2. Drink Plenty of Water

Over 70 percent of your body is composed of water and every function in the body is dependent on water, including the activities of the brain and nervous system. Water gives the brain the electrical energy for all mental and processing functions. According to Dr. Corinne Allen, founder of the Advanced Learning and Development Institute, brain cells need twice as much energy as other cells in the body. Water is the most effective and efficient way to provide this energy.

Water is also needed for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Nerve transmission requires half of all the brain’s energy. When your brain’s water reserves are full, you can process information quicker, are more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity.

3. Proper Amounts of Exercise

Physical exercise is not only important for your body’s health, it also helps your brain stay sharp. Your brain is no different than rest of the muscles in your body―you have to train it to ensure its elasticity and strength. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.

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Exercise stimulates brain plasticity by triggering growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.

Another important benefit of exercise and physical movement is, it increases the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain. The brain uses about three times as much oxygen as muscles. Oxygen is vital to brain function and brain healing. Optimal brain function is dependent upon healthy blood flow.

4. Rest and Reduce Stress

Sleep is essential to proper brain functioning and for mental clarity. The brain needs sleep in order to recuperate. When sleep is regularly interrupted or you only get a few hours of shut eye, you are more likely to experience brain fog in the morning and throughout the day. While you sleep, cerebral fluid rushes in, “power washing” your brain, clearing it of debris. It’s during sleep that you consolidate memories so you can recall what you learned the previous day.

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Stress is very powerful and it can negatively affect the body in a number of ways, including causing brain fatigue which gives way to the fog. Being stressed is often equated with being productive, popular, and successful, however that is far from true. In fact, prolonged stress leads to anxiety, depression, poor decision making, insomnia, and memory loss. Too much of the stress hormone cortisol leads to a surplus free radicals ‒ unattached oxygen molecules ‒ that damage brain cell membranes, causing them to lose normal function and die.

A healthy brain begins and ends with a healthy lifestyle. Eating right, staying hydrated, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and reducing stress are the keys to not only avoiding brain fog but ensuring your brain’s overall health long term.

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Denise Hill

Denise shares about psychology and communication tips on Lifehack.

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Published on June 30, 2020

What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

Many conversations are being held nowadays regarding unconscious bias, but what does it really mean and how can it affect your life and the people around you? With many types of biases, it can get quite confusing. In this article, we’ll touch on cognitive bias, and then zero in on unconscious bias. Both types of biases have an immediate impact on your life because they relate to how you and others think about yourself and other people.

If you want to protect your relationships and make good decisions about other people, you need to know what these biases mean[1]. Once we have clarity about that, we can explore in more depth unconscious bias and how to address it[2].

Cognitive Bias

Let’s start with cognitive bias[3], a predictable pattern of mental errors that result in us misperceiving reality and, as a result, deviating away from the most likely way of reaching our goals[4].

These mental blind spots impact all areas of our life, from health to relationships and even shopping, as a study recently revealed[5]. In other words, from the perspective of what is best for us as individuals, falling for a cognitive bias always harms us by lowering our probability of getting what we want.

Cognitive biases have to do with judgment, not mood. Ironically, cognitive biases — such as the optimism bias and overconfidence effect — more often lead to positive moods. Of course, the consequence of falling into cognitive biases, once discovered, usually leaves us in a bad mood due to the disastrous results of these dangerous judgment errors.

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Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is different from cognitive bias. Also known as implicit bias, it refers to unconscious forms of discrimination and stereotyping based on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, age, and so on[6]. Despite cognitive biases sometimes leading to discriminatory thinking and feeling patterns, these are two separate and distinct concepts.

Cognitive biases are common across humankind and relate to the particular wiring of our brains, while unconscious bias relates to perceptions between different groups and are specific for the society in which we live. For example, I bet you don’t care or even think about whether someone is a noble or a commoner, yet that distinction was fundamentally important a few centuries ago across Europe. To take another example, most people in the US don’t have strong feelings about Sunni vs. Shiite Muslims, yet this distinction is incredibly meaningful in many parts of the world.

Unconscious Bias and Discriminatory Behavior

Organizations often bring me in as a speaker on diversity and inclusion to address potential unconscious discriminatory behavior. When I share in speeches that black Americans suffer from police harassment and violence at a much higher rate than white people, some participants (usually white) occasionally try to defend the police by claiming that black people are more violent and likely to break the law than whites. They thus attribute police harassment to the internal characteristics of black people (implying that it is deserved), and not to the external context of police behavior.

In reality – as I point out in my response to these folks – research shows that black people are harassed and harmed by police at a much higher rate for the same kind of activity. A white person walking by a cop, for example, is statistically much less likely to be stopped and frisked than a black one[7].

At the other end of things, a white person resisting arrest is much less likely to be violently beaten than a black one. In other words, statistics show that the higher rate of harassment and violence against black Americans by police is due to the prejudice of the police officers, at least to a large extent[8].

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However, I am careful to clarify that this discrimination is not necessarily intentional. Sometimes, it indeed is deliberate, with white police officers consciously believing that black Americans deserve much more scrutiny than whites. At other times, the discriminatory behavior results from unconscious, implicit thought processes that the police officer would not consciously endorse[9].

After becoming aware that unconscious bias does exist, the next step would be learning how to recognize it in order to reduce it. I’ve outlined three crucial points to keep in mind below while further exploring the unconscious prejudice discussed above.

How to Reduce Unconscious Bias

Remember these three important points if you want to work on reducing your unconscious bias.

1. Unconscious Bias is a Systemic Issue

When we understand that unconscious bias is ultimately a systemic issue, we understand that internal cultures need to be checked and addressed first.

Interestingly, research shows that many black police officers have an unconscious prejudice against other black people, perceiving them in a more negative light than white people when evaluating potential suspects. This unconscious bias carried by many — not all — black police officers helps show that such prejudices come – at least to a significant extent – from internal cultures within police departments, rather than pre-existing racist attitudes present before someone joins a police department.

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Such cultures are perpetuated by internal norms, policies, and training procedures, and any police department wishing to address unconscious bias needs to address internal culture first and foremost, rather than attributing racism to individual officers.

In other words, instead of saying it’s a few bad apples in a barrel of overall good ones, the key is recognizing that unconscious bias is a systemic issue, and the structure and joints of the barrel needs to be fixed[10].

2. There Is No Shame in Unconscious Bias

Another crucial thing that needs to be highlighted is that there is no shame or blame in unconscious bias as it’s not stemming from any fault in the individual. This no-shame approach decreases the fight, freeze, or flight defensive response among reluctant audiences, helping them hear and accept the issue.

Unconscious bias is prevalent and often doesn’t match our conscious values. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs and prejudices stemming from our tendency to categorize people into social groups. This developed naturally as a way for our ancestors to quickly size up a possible threat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate well in modern life.

3. It Takes a Sustained Effort to Prevent and Protect Against Unconscious Bias

After being presented with additional statistics and discussion of unconscious bias, the issue is generally settled. Still, from their subsequent behavior it’s clear that some of these audience members don’t immediately internalize this evidence. It’s much more comforting for their gut reactions to believe that police officers are right and anyone targeted by police deserves it; in turn, they are highly reluctant to accept the need to focus more efforts and energy on protecting black Americans from police violence due to the structural challenges facing these groups.

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The issue of unconscious bias doesn’t match their intuitions, so they reject this concept, despite extensive and strong evidence for its pervasive role in policing. It takes a series of subsequent follow-up conversations and interventions to move the needle. A single training is almost never sufficient, both in my experience and according to research[11].

Conclusion

The examples and points raised illustrate broader patterns you need to follow to recognize unconscious bias. Only by doing so will you be able to determine if, and what type of, intervention is needed to address it.

Unfortunately, our gut reactions lead us to make poor judgment choices when we simply follow our intuitions. Unconscious biases are systemic and need to be addressed in order to make the best decisions[12].

We need to learn about the kind of problems that result from unconscious bias. Then, you need to develop the right mental habits to help you make the best choices[13]. A one-time training is insufficient for doing so. It takes a long-term commitment and constant discipline and efforts to overcome unconscious bias, so get started now.

More Tips on Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Featured photo credit: M.T ElGassier via unsplash.com

Reference

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