Biofeedback & Brain Fog
These days more often than not, our patients list “brain fog” as one of their health concerns. Although there might be a slight difference in their descriptions, most struggle with attention and focus, restlessness, anxiety, forgetfulness, not being able to complete tasks and a sense that their “head is in the clouds.” They even worry that they are developing dementia. So, if you are experiencing similar symptoms, know that you are not alone.
As you might already know, there are a myriad of reasons for brain fog or suboptimal brain function such as: prescription medications, low thyroid function, inflammation, anemia, poor diet, poor sleep, depression, environmental toxicity, excessive drinking (alcohol), etc. In this article we will focus on how biofeedback and mindfulness can potentially help your brain fog, however one can not ignore all the other important factors that could be contributing to your symptoms. For more information on other potential causes and what to do about them please review our other articles and stay tuned for upcoming ones!!!
What Does Your Brain Need To Function Optimally?
Adequate amount of oxygen, nutrients and stimulation and optimally functioning mitochondria. For these factors to occur you need adequate blood flow to your brain (i.e. blood pressure) and a healthy nervous system (remember you brain is part of your nervous system!!!). You know this already because more than likely you have experienced it yourself. You might have felt that certain things such as exercise or eating certain foods or drinking certain beverages can make your brain fog better or worse. Why? Well this is because physical activity, quantity and quality of your foods as well as other factors tinker with the variables that ultimately dictate how your brain functions.
Now, hold that thought!
Since we mentioned your nervous system, lets briefly talk about it — specifically your autonomic nervous system. Autonomic nervous system is in charge of heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, sexual arousal, blood pressure, metabolic activity, and more. There are two branches to the autonomic nervous system: parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for rest and digest, and sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for fight, freeze or flight*. You need BOTH branches in order to respond in a healthy manner to life, the balance and the interplay between the two systems is key. Therefore, if one of these branches is malfunctioning, or if the two systems are out of balance (often with our modern day lifestyles the parasympathetic branch takes a back seat) then your respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and other functions will be off — directly impacting your brain function as well as having other health ramifications. This balance is crucial for both your overall short-term and long-term health. And an autonomic dysregulation (or dysfunction), if not addressed, will ultimately lead to many health challenges including brain fog.
Can You Re-establish Health & Balance In Your Autonomic Nervous System?
The answer is a resounding YES!!!
One** form of biofeedback that is highly effective in re-establishing balance in your autonomic nervous system is heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a normal physiological response and a measure of change in the beat-to-beat interval of the heart. HRV is different from your pulse rate — your pulse is a rather fixed number over a specific period of time (for example a minute), whereas HRV is a measure of the changes in the heart rate over time.
What Is Heart Rate Variability?
Your heart rate should change with every inhale and every exhale, increasing with every inhale and decreasing with every exhale. And, it’s using this variability in the heart rate that we can calculate your heart rate variability. As you have probably guessed having a high HRV is good. Why? Because HRV is a measure of the flexibility of your heart to respond to and adapt to the demands placed upon it (i.e. it can ramp up and supply more blood to your body when needed and it can also slow down and relax).
How Can HRV Help Your Brain Fog?
Here’s how we can break it down and recap what we have discussed thus far:
- Autonomic nervous system is one of the major routes of communication between your brain and practically the rest of your body (cardiovascular system, hormonal system, digestive system, immune system, etc).
- Autonomic nervous system is in charge of regulating the amount of oxygen and nutrients that get to your brain through modulating your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.
- Autonomic dysregulation will lead to improper flow of blood containing oxygen and nutrients to your brain and that can certainly lead to brain fog.
- HRV biofeedback is associated with creating balance between the different branches of your autonomic nervous system.
- Therefore, HRV biofeedback training can be an effective tool in addressing brain fog and enhancing cognition.
So, How Can You Help Yourself?
First and foremost, realize that sleepwalking through life does not have to be your normal. You CAN improve your cognition.
Make sure you are working with a naturopathic doctor or a true integrative doctor who can help you improve your life-style, address deficiencies and reduce your inflammatory load. Further, your brain fog can be a result of your inability to focus, and your inability to focus can be due to a continuous barrage of external stimulation and distractions as well as nonstop internal stream of thoughts. So, take an active role in learning about and adopting mindfulness practices that can help you become more present, more aware, and more awake. Remember that it is going to take consistent practice to see change. But I promise you that it’s a worthwhile effort. The quality of your mind determines the quality of your life. Take time, everyday, for quiet and stillness and allow yourself time away from your computer and your phone. Allow occasional time for you to reflect on life, and if it helps write about the revelations and wisdom that comes to you — this practice can help tremendously in dealing with angst about the past and anxiety about the future.
You can also seek out a biofeedback practitioner that can help you develop more self-awareness and address much more than just your brain fog — and if you are in Los Angeles and surrounding areas please come and visit us at Conscious Human Medicine.
Lastly, know that autonomic dysfunction resulting in brain fog as well as other symptoms can be corrected and reversed.
*There is a lot to explain on this subject and the role of the vagus nerve (your 10th cranial nerve), however in this article we will keep things simple.
**Remember, as we mentioned earlier, there is a lot more that can be helpful through your diet and other life-style factors.