IBS and brain fog

   06/02/2024

Do you have IBS and brain fog? While IBS symptoms generally include digestive and transit problems, I am increasingly noticing that brain fog can be associated with IBS. So if this is familiar to you, read on.

What is brain fog?

Brain fog refers to that general feeling of being a little spaced out, and unfocused. It can also include the impression of having poor concentration, slow thinking, and poor memory.

As Dr Schultz says “It’s just kind of this feeling that you’re trying to do something, and it’s taking more effort. It’s harder to do. You don’t feel like you’re picking up all of those details — almost as if you’re driving through a fog.”

So why is it that IBS sufferers can experience this? While hormones and menopause often get the blame (this can be a time of change when we feel these symptoms much more), I believe that the common denominator is dissociation.

Brain fog is often a symptom of dissociation.

What is dissociation?

dissociation is a coping mechanism

Dissociation is a coping mechanism that a child can develop during childhood in an attempt to protect itself from difficult emotions and painful experiences.

Brain fog and dissociation can show up is as a numbing out, or anxiety around a traumatic experience you had as a child (e.g. from a physical accident, or surgery).

Especially if this experience was not understood as being traumatic by those around you, and you were not given the support you needed to “digest” it.

Dissociation can also be used to numb out repeated painful experiences with other people, and especially adults who had authority over you.

The ideal home should be safe, with supportive, loving parents.

When a young child is confronted with physical or emotional abuse, feels unsafe, or feels unheard and unsupported by parents (caregivers or adult figures inside, or outside the home) it has to find some way of dealing with these feelings.

It relies on those adults for it’s survival.

Brain fog and dissociation: Real life examples

Example One: Brain fog, dissociation and digestive issues around trauma

When I was 5, I had a serious accident in a swimming pool. I slipped and somehow did the splits on the side of the pool, and had to have stitches in my private parts.

Years later in Comprehensive School, we had swimming lessons before maths. I was very stressed swimming classes (though no-one could understand why!) During the maths lesson I felt really tired and had brain fog. I just couldn’t concentrate.

I would go home and go straight to bed, or be sick. And I concluded I must be rubbish at swimming and maths.

Example Two: Brain fog related to childhood feelings

I recently actually felt myself dissociate and plunge into brain fog.

I was in a shop, looking for a present for my daughter. They didn’t have what I wanted, but I saw a pair of slippers that were just what I needed. I was trying them on when my husband asked the shop assistant next to us if they had the present.

Suddenly, I felt upset and started feeling tired.

I went into another shop looking for the present. There were several to choose from. And as I started looking, I started having a headache and my thinking felt really slow and blurry. Everything felt really heavy and I just couldn’t find the right size or make a decision.

It took me a while to work out what had triggered me. As it made no sense. A week later I realised that this was about feeling guilty for wanting something, a feeling from my childhood.

Why do I have IBS and brain fog?

IBS and brain fog

The majority of IBS sufferers I encounter have had rough childhoods. They had unaware, non-empathic parents cut off from their emotions.

Either that, or they have had a traumatic experience that was not recognised as traumatic. And had no real support with digesting it.

Interestingly, in this research study, “analysis indicated a causal chain linking, in turn, abuse, dissociation, somatization, and IBS.” 

Where do I go from here?

If you have suffered with IBS for years, and sometimes experience brain fog or other symptoms of dissociation, consider what is triggering you.

Is a past trauma, or what you picked up on in childhood triggering you?

Deliberately set out to look for situations that are setting your IBS symptoms and brain fog off. This can take time, but at least you will start to understand where your triggers are.

If you want some help from an expert in finding and releasing triggers, why not work with me?

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