Brain fog, hunter/gatherers, anxiety and you

Are you having problems thinking or concentrating as well as you used to? What about making decisions – do they make you feel overwhelmed? If so, chances are you have what’s commonly called brain fog. This can be caused by an illness or injury but, more likely, I expect that you are feeling anxious or stressed.


So what can you do about it? Well, read on to find out why it’s happening and learn some helpful ways of dealing with it and a special offer at the end.

What’s happening in the brain

Modern brain

Modern humans, you and me, communicate, think logically and plan using the front part of our brain. This lets us see things for what they really are, the facts, with no emotional attachments. We also think positively and make judgements from this part of our brain.

Primitive brain

But there is another part of our brain which developed in primitive times to keep us safe. This handles our fight, flight or freeze responses.

This primitive part sits in the middle of our brain and consists of three very important areas that interact with each other. The central ‘governor’ is always on the lookout for danger and it has to anticipate the worst that could happen. This results in a negative outlook. And because your survival might be at stake, it has to respond very quickly: ten times faster than your logical, reasoning modern brain, in fact. 

If it detects danger, the governor sends messages to the other two parts of this primitive brain.

One controls the production of adrenalin and cortisol, the chemicals needed to help you fight or run. They increase your heart rate, shut down your digestive system, and cause you to empty your bladder and bowel – does all this remind you of anything? How anxiety feels or maybe even IBS?

The other part stores your previous behaviours and emotions. The governor isn’t intelligent – it can’t make original decisions so it consults this library store to see what you did in a similar situation. Since you are still alive as a result of this action, the governor repeats this behaviour, even if it might not be appropriate (like screaming and running from a spider which you know, intellectually, is harmless?). This is where phobias and possibly addictions come from.

Now, this response to danger was all well and good in pre-historic times when confronted by a cave bear or lion, or even today if we really are in mortal danger: we react almost instantly before our thinking, conscious brain has even registered the situation. In fact, the primitive brain deliberately reduces our ability to ‘think straight’ so that all our bodily resources can be used to deal with the impending danger. 

So the greater our anxiety level, the less brain space we have to plan, think positively, reason logically and make sensible decisions. Here comes brain fog. 

Negative thinking

How do we increase our anxiety levels so easily? It comes from thinking negatively about anything and everything. Take events in your life, for example, simple things like not being able to find a parking place. This is only annoying if you allow it to be. You have a choice as to how you think about it. And each negative thought about, say, the past (which is pointless because you can’t change it) or the future (which is also pointless as whatever it is, it may never happen) is stored and produces anxiety and stress chemicals.

The thing is, our minds can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. The stress chemicals produced as a result of our anxiety live in our bodies for a long time. But they were designed for short-term use, so it’s no wonder that they damage our systems, including the immune system, inflammation (arthritis) as well as causing poor sleep,  weight gain, headaches and lethargy.

Many writers and philosophers have had their say about unnecessary fretting. For example: “. . . there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. . .” Shakespeare (Hamlet).

And the first-century Roman philosopher Seneca writes about groundless fears: “.. we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

So what to do about it?

Reducing stress levels - sleep and hypnosis

We have an in-built way of reducing our stress levels which happens when we sleep. There are several stages in our sleep. The one we’re most interested in here is called REM (Rapid Eye Movement). It’s during this phase that we dream a lot and we also deal with the emotional difficulties of the previous day. You’ve heard the expression “sleep on it” and you may have actually experienced the difference that this makes when, the day after something emotional happened, you still remember the incident but the feelings connected with it are much less evident. 

This works well when we are not overly stressed but, very high stress levels can’t be dealt with in one night – REM sleep is only about a fifth of our total night’s sleep. So stress levels can build up. This is where the hypnosis part of hypnotherapy comes to your rescue. It relaxes your mind and to some extent recreates the effects of REM sleep and helps to reduce your overall stress levels. There are many guided meditations available online. I give my own version to my clients and recommend that they listen to it before going to sleep. Everyone reports that they relax and sleep better as a result.  

Hypnosis (which means ‘sleep’ in Greek) produces a relaxed state called trance. This is something that we all experience every day. It’s when you forget about the outside world, just focusing on the issue at hand. Such as when you’re watching a good film or driving. Driving! I hear you say. There are times when you drive on ‘automatic pilot’ – when you can’t remember afterwards driving down a particular road? These are the times when your primitive, danger-aware brain is looking after you and will react much faster than your thinking brain, should a dangerous situation occur.

Being positive changes your brain

Now we need to revisit our hunter/gatherer ancestors. Successful living for these people forced them to behave in particular ways that made them feel better. “Feeling better” came about by their brains producing chemicals, called neurotransmitters, which encouraged them to be motivated (dopamine), feel good when they interacted with others (oxytocin) and generally happier (serotonin) when they performed positive tasks that helped support themselves, their families and their tribe – all essential for survival in those days.

We still need these chemicals today to lead healthy lives, both physically and mentally and we achieve this by interacting, thinking and being active in positive ways. Being a part of a group or tribe in our modern life is still exceptionally important. Research is now showing just how damaging loneliness, feeling abandoned, is, both mentally and physically.

So acting positively and particularly thinking positively reduces our stress levels, which increases our ability to think logically and reduces brain fog. Practising positive thinking is actually a way of changing your brain – and if you think that that’s not possible, I can only suggest that you read the excellent, inspirational book by Norman Doidge The Brain that Changes Itself (The New York Times comment: “The power of positive thinking finally gains scientific credibility”).

Final thoughts

We have had a quick run-through explaining how our thinking patterns affect us physically as well as mentally. So what can you do to help yourself? The most important action here is to...

Reduce negative thinking

Easier said than done, I know. But once you are aware of your thinking patterns you can alter how you react to events. It’s easier to do this with the help of a trained therapist and the hypnosis I use is especially helpful. 

If you would like to experience my relaxation session, just contact me through my profile and I will email you an mp3 file free of charge – a kind of try before you buy. But you are under no obligation to buy at all.

I hope that you have found something useful here and I look forward to hearing from you. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leeds LS16 & Birmingham B15
Written by Sylvia Miller, mAfSFH Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, EFT accredited
Leeds LS16 & Birmingham B15

I am a Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) Hypnotherapist. I have also trained with Relate and the Humanistic School of counselling and am accredited by the National Hypnotherapy Society as an Applied EFT Practitioner. Both of these therapies produce fast but long lasting results. I help people take back control of their lives.

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