Can’t Think Straight? How Stress Makes You Confused.


We’ve all had them before – those fuzzy moments where your brain just… won’t work. Where a mental fog seems to cloud your memory, slowing down your thoughts and making you feel disoriented.

Times where you’re just not as quick to react, your decisions aren’t up to their usual caliber, and goodness even knows where you left those car keys!

If you’ve been struggling to think straight, and you’re a bit confused about why you’re so confused, it may be that you’re going through some stress.

Read on to understand why pressure, worry, or little day-to-day strains can lead to confusion, and learn some useful tips to help you clear that mental fog.

How Are Confusion and Stress-Related?

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s a normal part of daily life. You don’t have to go through a specific traumatic event to feel its impact, which is why it can be hard to understand why your brain just isn’t performing to its usual high standard.

A great example is the kind of pressure we put on ourselves–and if you’re a multi-tasker, especially, you’ll know what I mean.

Picture your average workday. You’re rushing to juggle project deadlines while answering phone calls, greeting customers, and replying to emails. You may get a call from your child, spouse, or mechanic–because you’re not just an employee, you’re a parent, partner, and (broken) car owner, too. 

Fielding different responsibilities or balancing too many tasks at once can be quite taxing on our brains. The stress of it all can make it harder to focus, leading to absentmindedness, muddled thoughts, and a feeling of disorientation. 

In a nutshell: it can make you confused. 

In our fast-paced world and competitive workplaces, it’s easy to take on too much at once. Because so many of us are guilty of it but just don’t realize, I created the Getting Confused Stress Coaching Card. 

3 Tips To Regain Clarity

If you’ve been stressed and confused, you may know that the harder you try to recall what you were doing or where you put those keys, the more elusive the answer seems to be.

Luckily, there are more helpful ways to clear that mental haze than just ‘trying to push through.’ Here are my top 3 coaching tips. 

1. Restore Reality

This reality exercise aims to help you shift from ‘thinking’ to ‘feeling’ when the former just isn’t working. Surprisingly enough, it’s an effective way to restore your mental clarity.

The next time you feel confused, perplexed, or disoriented, try running your hands under a tap. Focus on how it feels on your skin: the temperature, movement, the water pressure. 

Attending to sensations, rather than struggling to think, can restore your sense of clarity. It can defog your mind and help you overcome extreme cases of confusion.

To take this further, try pressing and rubbing your hands together to generate some warmth (it’s another thing to focus on). If you’re not near a tap, try rubbing your palms together until they warm up. 

2. Grounding

The next time your mind feels chaotic, try this five-step exercise to ground yourself in the present moment.

You will use your five senses to turn your awareness to the world around you, calming you down and hopefully reducing your confusion.

Begin by taking long, slow breaths in through your nose. Release them at your own pace through your mouth. 

Then engage each of your senses in turn:

  • LOOK around you: What are five things you see? Anything works here–a shadow, book, or plant. 
  • FEEL with your body: Notice four sensations–like your hands on your lap, your feet on the ground, the clothes on your back.
  • HEAR: Tune into three sounds around you, like a whirring fan, a dog barking, or the fridge humming.
  • SMELL: Notice two scents–maybe your coffee? Fresh ink? The flowers on your desk?
  • TASTE: What is one thing you taste now–is it toothpaste? The fresh air? Tea? Gum?

3. Give It Time

When you are under pressure, doing nothing might be the last thing on your mind. 

But paradoxically, letting your confusion pass on its own might be just what you need to calm your mind and regain your mental sharpness. 

Try it!

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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