Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on
June 16, 2022
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Inez Van Roy on:

What if your depression causes your cognitive dysfunction? Research shows an association between depression and brain fog. This mental illness could negatively impact your cognitive functioning. Your planning, learning ability, and memory could fall behind due to your mood. 

With the right care, you can manage your mental illness. If you have tried everything already, you can learn when to ask for help and what medication or therapy can support you on your way. You can get started today by reading this article. 

This guide about experiencing brain fog and depression could be your first step in recovery. Keep reading to know how these are related and what to do about depression or brain fog.

What is brain fog? 

The term “brain fog” has been around for a while. During the last few years, brain fog has caught more attention. Brain fog is a term that describes a foggy feeling or mental fatigue. It is not a medical diagnosis, but a more lay term. 

More technical words would be difficulties with attention or concentration and bad memory recall. People can’t think clearly due to brain fog symptoms. For older people, a more technical term could refer to “mild cognitive impairment.” It refers to age-related cognitive symptoms, such as trouble concentrating or memory difficulties.

What is depression? 

Depression refers to a mental illness that makes us feel overall sad, negative, or lethargic. You lose interest in life or things that were exciting to you before. Depressive episodes should last more than two weeks to be diagnosed. 

You might not see a reason to live anymore, or see no reason to wake up and leave your bed. This mental illness can deeply impact your daily life.

Clinical or major depressive disorder has the following symptoms:

  • Sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, or feelings of hopelessness.
  • Irritable, angry, or easily frustrated. 
  • Loss or lack of interest or pleasure in previously pleasurable activities, (e.g., sex, sports, or hobbies) 
  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or too much sleeping
  • Lack of energy, excessive tiredness. Small tasks seem very big or take more effort. 
  • Weight loss, or reduced appetite. You could experience an increase in food cravings, and gain weight. 
  • Agitation, anxiety, or restlessness
  • Slowed movements, thinking or speaking
  • Feeling worthless, guilty. They might fixate on past failures or self-blame.
  • Issues with concentration, thinking, decision making, and episodic memory.
  • Frequent or recurrent suicidal ideations, thoughts of death, or (attempts to) commit suicide.
  • Unexplained physical problems (e.g., back pain or headaches). 

What are the causes of depression?

The cause of depression is unclear. It might combine personal, biological, and environmental factors. 

On a biological level causes could refer to:

  • hereditary traits, 
  • hormonal changes (such as childbirth), 
  • physical or chemical differences in the brain.

The Mayo Clinic refers to the following risk factors as well:  

  • stressful event or trauma
  • personality, such as low self-esteem or being pessimistic 
  • family history, such as parents with a history of mental health conditions
  • loneliness
  • alcohol and drugs misuse or abuse
  • Chronic illness or medications that could impact your mood.

While this speaks only on the causes of depression, experiencing brain fog seems related to these factors.  Brain fog could be caused due to medical illnesses, chronic stress, and more of the above-mentioned risk factors. It could also be the consequence of your mood or mental health disorder. Keep reading to understand the connection between your mood and brain fog.

Is there a link between depression and brain fog? 

As explained above, “brain fog” is not a medical diagnosis. This lay term describes neuropsychological patterns that seem to be mixed with feeling tired or fatigued. Some could conclude that brain fog is a symptom of depression. 

Let’s take a deeper look. Depression is associated with a different neuropsychological pattern. That is logical. Depression changes your brain chemistry. 

There is an association between major depressive disorder and difficulties with visuo-spatial, verbal and working memory. Major depressive disorder might come with issues of processing speed. This could possibly further reflect on your learning ability or memory issues. 

Other brain fog symptoms you might face are executive dysfunctioning symptoms. The cognitive functioning deteriorates with age. It could look like difficulty with goal setting, (financial) planning, and more. 

Home Remedies Against Depression and Cognitive Dysfunction

Before you treat brain fog you should first focus on treating your depression. Your mental health disorder might cause your cognitive dysfunction.

Home remedies might not fix the issue. They can however be a starting point for your road to remission.

The APA (American Psychological Association) recommends going to the doctor, or psychotherapist first. These following measures could be complimentary. In their most recent clinical guideline (february 2019) they recommend the following measures:

Exercise Frequently

Moderate aerobic exercise shows a large to moderate antidepressant effect on people with major depressive disorder. These results are consistently found in a meta-analysis (2019). In this study more than 455 people were observed in an inpatient, and outpatient context. Implementing 45 minutes of moderate exercise, three times a week can improve your mood.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is a natural medicine, herb or supplement used to counter mental health disorders, such as major depressive disorder. Mostly in German countries it seems to be highly integrated and useful. Today the APA recommends it as a monotherapy. This would mean that you only take this, and no other medication. If you want to try St. John’s Wort, you should inform your doctor as it has a long list of interactions with other medications. 

Yoga 

Implementing yoga is highly recommended. A recent systemic review and meta-analysis (2021) shows that physically active yoga could alleviate depression. The reduction in major depressive disorder is superior to being on a waitlist, treatment as usual and attention control. Some forms of yoga also have a breathwork and meditation practice. This could support you further on your road to recovery.

Bright Light Therapy

Multiple meta-analyses confirm that bright light therapy could improve nonseasonal depression (2005, 2016, 2020). Less than 60 minutes a day seems to show the best effect. People with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of seasonal depression, could possibly also profit from bright light therapy. 

How Not to Treat Depression

While alternatives could help you, the APA does not recommend them at this point due to a lack of consistent evidence. The APA refers to Tai Chi, other vitamins or supplements as insufficient as monotherapy.

While other supplements and vitamins might make you feel better, the effects might be too small to consider it a viable alternative to the ones mentioned above and below.

The benefits you experience might be due to the placebo effect, or your personal needs for certain vitamins or minerals. 

Medical Ways to Treat Depression

The APA (and doctors) recommend a combination of psychotherapy and second-generation antidepressant medications.

Psychotherapy as a form of monotherapy is effective in the following forms:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Cognitive, cognitive-behavioral, and mindfulness-based cognitive-therapy
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy
  • Psychodynamic therapies
  • Supportive therapy

If you use combination therapy, then cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal psychotherapy is preferred. 

When to See a Doctor for Brain Fog and Depression

Consult a doctor if depression impacts your daily life. 

A proper doctor will positively support your mental health journey. Medication, therapy or other treatment forms can improve your recovery. 

If you break a bone, you don’t wait to go to the doctor either. The same should apply to mental health disorders. 

Depression could impact your cognitive functioning. Your career or educational progress might stagnate or decline. In turn brain fog symptoms could worsen your mood, self worth or self-confidence. Ask a doctor what could support your health in case of doubts. 

Conclusions on How to Treat Brain Fog and Depression

Dealing with brain fog and depression can feel unmotivating and hard. You feel tired already due to the depression. Needing extra energy to perform thinking tasks makes life even harder. 

Waking up, driving to work and concentrating on the job and driving home again already feels like a big task. People also expect you to do it with a smile. Watching our mental health is already difficult enough. Along comes our lack of mental clarity. The brain fog doesn’t make life easier. 

Treating depression and cognitive symptoms is not impossible. People in remission from depression show less cognitive symptoms. Take a look at the above strategies to manage your depression. Once in remission, maybe your cognitive symptoms will also recover. 

Try these at home remedies to see what could or couldn’t help. These tools could help you manage your mood, leaving more energy to focus on your goals, or learning. 

If you liked this article, read more on brain fog or mental health disorders on our website. Want to keep the conversation going? Join our community to see how others treat brain fog. 

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