Burnout and brain fog? Why does it feel like I’m losing my mind?
One of the most common limitations we face as we age is the deterioration of our memory. Take Sarah as an example. Sarah is a 37-year-old professional staging houses in the real estate industry. In addition, she has three wonderful children and a partner who frequently travels for work. Needless to day, Sarah keeps busy. Her teenage daughter plays hock a minimum of three times per week, and her younger boys are active in soccer and hoping to join hockey for the winter.
Sarah’s an all-star. She’s excelled at her career for years and is raising an amazing family. She has always prided herself on her sharp mind and her above-average memory. Years ago she, never had to write lists, or schedules, or reminders. Lately, she feels that her memory has degenerated so fast and that she feels she may actually be losing her mind. She is walking into rooms and forgetting why she went there; she constantly has words on the tip of her tongue. She has become afraid of meeting new clients as she feels she is always stumbling over words and no longer feels confident to communicate professionally and effectively. The grocery store run has become a nightmare and has stopped going well unless armed with a frequented list. Just the other day a friend asked her about an outfit she had worn 2 days before and she couldn’t remember what clothes she had worn. She is worried about her mental health, especially after watching her grandmother develop dementia as she got older.
These issues are all too common, and come hand-in-hand with burnout. The reason for this is the result of being busy for such a long period of time. This chronic pace of running flat-out all day, every day, causes the body to respond by raising cortisol levels. At first, this makes you feel superhuman, as you have the energy and adrenaline to excel. However, as this cortisol level remains high it starts to have unwanted effects on your body and your brain. The area of your brain which houses your memory is called the hippocampus, and is our mental hard-drive, so to speak. This part of our brain contains many cortisol receptors, and when there are normal amounts of cortisol and stress occurring they have no negative effects. However, research has shown that excess cortisol can overwhelm the hippocampus and cause atrophy – read the full paper here. When your hippocampus begins to atrophy, your memory starts to suffer in a major way, and it’s at this point that you start to develop short-term memory deficits.
It’s this very reason that your memory feels like it’s turning to mush. All too often people do not pay attention to this symptom of burnout, and attribute it to ageing. The biggest mistake one can make is to diagnose the issue as anything less than what it is! It’s been shown that, if addressed, this atrophy of the hippocampus is reversible, meaning your formidable memory can be restored.