To­tal burnout

Brain fog

Glamour (South Africa) - - Contents -

this is the curse of the over­achiever: be­tween ac­ing ex­ams, land­ing a dream job, main­tain­ing a so­cial life, stay­ing in shape and groom­ing your In­sta­gram feed, it can of­ten feel as though be­ing stressed is your steady state. Your to-do lists grow, while days seem shorter. And no mat­ter how much you ex­cel at mul­ti­task­ing, the ten­sion feels like it’s build­ing. That’s be­cause it is, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey con­ducted by the Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion. Mil­len­ni­als are more burnt out than ever be­fore – and it may have some­thing to do with the re­cent uptick in a con­di­tion some re­searchers are call­ing ‘ brain fog’.

Short­hand for men­tal cloudi­ness, brain fog has long been as­so­ci­ated with con­di­tions like fi­bromyal­gia and Alzheimer’s, but now teens and 20-some­things are re­port­ing feel­ings of men­tal con­fu­sion and slug­gish­ness sim­i­lar to those more com­monly ob­served in older gen­er­a­tions. “It’s com­mon, but def­i­nitely not nor­mal,” notes Dr Robert Lahita, a pro­fes­sor of medicine. So what’s the cat­a­lyst?

A host of trig­gers all point to in­creased pres­sures spe­cific to this gen­er­a­tion, like the climb­ing cost of higher ed­u­ca­tion, a chang­ing job mar­ket in which it isn’t as sim­ple as grad­u­at­ing and get­ting a job, and a fraught po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, says Dr Mike Dow, a psy­chother­a­pist and the au­thor of Heal Your Drained Brain ( Hay House; R427). An­other cul­prit? So­cial me­dia, which has led to an in­flated sense of per­fec­tion­ism among mil­len­ni­als. While it may not be con­scious, see­ing celebri­ties’, in­flu­encers’ – even cer­tain friends’ – lives on In­sta­gram may have re­cal­i­brated the goals you’ve set for your­self. “Per­fec­tion is a high bar. No one can achieve that daily,” adds Dr Dow.

If it feels like you’re in a game of pin­ball all day, you’re not imag­in­ing things. “While fo­cus­ing on an im­por­tant task, our brains can’t fil­ter out ex­tra­ne­ous stim­uli, which in­hibits con­cen­tra­tion,” Dr Dow ex­plains. Just as your iphone tends to slow down if you have too many apps open, our brains can’t fully fo­cus if there are too many things that re­quire our at­ten­tion at once.

Also, tak­ing on more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties typ­i­cally leads to an im­pos­si­ble sched­ule. Many are chug­ging caf­feinated drinks –or worse, mis­us­ing friends’ pre­scrip­tion stim­u­lants to stay up crazy late, then wak­ing up at the crack of dawn to get more done. This at­tempt at hy­per­pro­duc­tiv­ity ends up back­fir­ing. “This in­ter­feres with your body’s nat­u­ral sleep cy­cle,” says Dr Dow. “It can give you men­tal jet lag, like fly­ing from Joburg to Cairo daily.” Keep­ing a reg­u­lar bed­time can curb brain fog and ac­tu­ally make your wak­ing hours more ef­fec­tive.

Cer­tain nu­tri­tional habits can make you feel fuzzy, too. Pro­cessed food and de­hy­dra­tion play a role, so drink plenty of wa­ter, and eat fruits and veg­gies. Most im­por­tant, keep anx­i­ety in check by un­plug­ging from your phone for an hour each day – stress buildup can re­sult in to­tal con­fu­sion and im­pede per­for­mance. Here’s how it works: when we’re stressed out, our brains ex­pe­ri­ence an up­surge in cor­ti­sol (the stress hor­mone) and a de­ple­tion of feel-good chem­i­cals, like sero­tonin and dopamine, leav­ing us un­mo­ti­vated to de­ci­pher dizzy­ing thoughts. You can avoid this by pri­ori­tis­ing time to ex­er­cise and med­i­tate. Once you slow down and take a step back, you might just start feel­ing sharper, even smarter.

“If ev­ery­thing you eat comes in a card­board box or a crinkly bag, you have a prob­lem.” – Amanda Rausch

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