Clouded Thinking: When Anxiety Messes With Your Judgement

Clouded Thinking

“I don’t really find myself working during the work hours. Rather I keep staring at the ceiling.”

People are failing to perform their daily functioning. Basic skills such as — Blocking out distractions or holding information in the mind has become nimble, as if everything exists in a void. 

Evidences have been captured, where Robertson, for instance, often loses focus over his mid-sentence. He says, “I forget what i’m saying, and go, ‘So yeah…’” Or Angela Meriquez who confirmed that it took her two years to schedule a meeting over email.

The idea of cloudiness in the brain was proposed in the words of Georg Greiner, a German Physician as “fogging of the light of reason,” or “clouding of consciousness.” At present, the scientists community are largely interested in understanding those moments of clouded thinking where people experience a passing feeling. While some people experience issues with attention, others do with memory. Whereas half of the people are just tired. 

Nobody is clear upto now, the accurate statistics of the prevalence of such a condition. Yet, when their brains are tested, the reports appear to be normal, even if the patients feel that their brains are failing them. 

“On a general basis, such cloudiness dissipates soon,” as per Kayt Sukel, in a 2022 New Scientific Journal. However, she points out, “Clinicians often take it less seriously. They think that the patients are simply exaggerating upon what’s happening to them.” Despite the lack of clarity over the common symptoms associated with such thinking, it definitely has something to do with a person’s daily functioning of life. 

Is There An Evidence That Clouded-Thinking Exists?

“We do not have the right tools for measuring clouded thinking exactly,” says David Putrino, who runs a rehabilitation clinic at Mount Sinai. He could be possibly correct, as he adds, “People present themselves as ‘normal’ in social situations. They’ll try everything and the results would turn out normal.” “However, it’s only when you test them two days later, is when you’ll notice something is different.”

David says that such clouded thinking is however not a made up concept. “Every patient would tell me exact story of their symptoms. If they were making it up, the clinical narrative would not be the same.”

Occupying Yourself With Anxious Thoughts

Kayt proposes that such dull or laboured form of thinking is complicated. There is no one specific measure to fix it. However, they may be specific conditions associated, states Anna Nordvig, a neurologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. She believes, “People may use such cloudy thinking to describe a range of cognitive symptoms such as Anxiety or Depression. Hence, it is more common than many clinicians may think.” 

To comprehend the insides of brain during these moments of cloudiness, researchers have tested different regions of brain, specifically the communication between neurons, in responding to the world around. The findings may back up Anna’s opinion as it is the heightened immune reaction that led to cell damage, further making it difficult for the neurons to send brain signals to one another. 

Since people are more vigilant today, they predict potential events and run away from threats. “This takes up a lot of energy, leaving them drained,” suggests Elissa Epel, a psychologist at University of California. Such an activated fight, flight or freeze response is nothing but anxiety and a reason to cloudy thinking. 

For instance, a 2020 report on cognition pointed out, “Anxiety alters aspects of cognitive performance. Since your brain is already overloaded with anxious thought, thus it can seldom attend to other necessary functions.” As a result, it may impact the performance in hand. On the other hand, researchers in a 2020 study, managed to induce people with anxiety by giving several tasks. There, they found out that anxiety made easy tasks relatively difficult, as it required more effort. The study, hence concluded that it may possible for the brain to get occupied with anxious thoughts, leaving no space for using other cognitive resources. 

Managing Symptoms Is More Important Than Getting Rid

When a patient experiences clouded thinking, the brain cells often don’t get enough nutrients or blood flow. “This could explain why people experience different symptoms of cloudiness,” states Nordvig, a researcher. In addition, lack of sleep is equally responsible to such cognitive symptoms, while worsening the pre-existing ones. Slow neural connections between brain regions to be facilitated when you have a bad sleep. 

To address the matter, scientifically — researchers are far ahead in coming up with alternative ways. For instance, they believe that fuzzy thinking could be “potentially reversible.” In early clinical trials, cancer researchers were involve in finding out drugs that calms and restores cognitive abilities back in mice. 

Although it may still take up a few years for biomedical advances to arrive to do something about clouded thinking, most of the treatments simply involve effective management of one’s symptoms. While some people completely recover from clouded thinking in a day or two, others may take upto years. However, a large part of the population still lie among those whose symptoms have not completely vanished. 

Patients struggle to make peace with how much their daily living have changed due to their clouded form of thought and inability to focus on the task at hand. It could be a dangerous approach to rely on such a desperation, for returning back to normal life. 

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Tackle Anxiety With a Few Lifestyle Tweaks

“Sound sleep, healthy eating and related lifestyle changes could support in making the anxious condition tolerable,” suggests Kayt. In her study, she adds, “It should resolve on its own, even if the doctors don’t have much to offer.” For such, sleep is a good place to begin, as “sleep deprivation is a common cause to those slow and fuzzy thoughts.”

Diet and exercise are also helpful in keeping your brain sharp. Even if its just a short walk — building up your steps gradually is effective. Diets that are good for the heart, are also good for the brain. As Brennan, a researcher, in a 2020 study explains, “what you put in your mouth, impacts what comes out of your brain. You get the essential nutrients for the brain to function its best.”

 Whereas other evidences makes sense to why exercise may more than just “maintaining fitness,” while hoping to recover. As Brennan continues, “Exercise stimulates the production of a chemical that is referred to as brain fertilizer. Such a chemical is essential in performing connections between brain cells and repairing them. In addition, with exercise, the blood flow carries more oxygen to the brain along with nutrients to the neurons.” Hence, there is no doubt that with regular exercise, for at-least 30 minutes, people will improve their speed in processing information.

Lastly, “This doesn’t have to be a marathon,” suggests a health report by Cleveland clinic. It is rather essential to challenge yourself everyday and eliminate stressors as much as possible. “While most of us tend to keep going until a point of no return, the report recommends to take 20-30 minutes break. This may involve any kind of focused activity like walking, playing music, or simply closing eyes and resting.”


Sally Van Lief

Sally Van Lief is a Psychologist & a Mental-Health Writer. She shares thought-provoking tools, asks insightful questions, and encourages her readers to be gentle with themselves.

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