Does beating brain fog sound impossible? It doesn’t have to be.
Good Housekeeping spoke to Dr. Sabina Brennan, health psychologist and neuroscientist at Trinity College Dublin, about identifying and eliminating brain fog. This is what she told us…
What is brain fog?
Complain of brain fog to a doctor, and you’ll likely be told it isn’t a recognized condition. But if you mention brain fog to your friends, they’ll know exactly what you mean: fuzzy thinking, trouble concentrating, grasping the right word, and feeling like your brain has somehow slowed down. In truth, brain fog is not a diagnosis in itself but a sign that things aren’t right in your body.
Brain fog causes
There are multiple causes of brain fog, from hormonal changes, medications, ill health, and, of course, the restrictions and repercussions we’ve all experienced due to the pandemic. Mainly, it occurs due to our failure to look after our brains with good quality sleep, proper nutrition, mental and physical exercise, and stress management.
Brain fog symptoms
The most common symptoms are loss of mental clarity, inability to focus or concentrate, problems with learning and remembering, slow thinking, issues with language or word-finding, and trouble navigating spaces, which many people describe as clumsiness. Depending on which area of brain function is affected, you can also experience brain fatigue, exhaustion, or irritability.
Symptoms of brain fog can come and go; when they occur regularly, they can interfere with the quality of your life, relationships, and work and, crucially, can railroad your standard capabilities.
Diagnosing brain fog
Talking first to your GP to rule out any underlying physical or mental health issues is essential. Instead of saying, ‘I have brain fog,’ you could be more specific so, for example, say: ‘I’m having problems with my word-finding and my brain function, but my memory is fine.’ This helps to isolate symptoms.
How to get rid of brain fog
Changing your habits in four areas of your life can boost brain health and dispel brain fog: sleep, stress, nutrition, and exercise, including mental fitness.
To create new healthy patterns, it helps to understand how habits are formed. First, there is the trigger, which can be almost anything, such as the time of day, a person, a place, a mood, or a scent. The action or reward may be eating, drinking, exercising, going outside, or checking your social media. This sequence becomes routine over time. The trigger and the reward combine, and a sense of anticipation emerges, cravings develop, and a habit is generated. Once embedded in your brain, habits can be reactivated at any time, especially during periods of stress.
The good news is that it’s relatively simple to cultivate a new craving for a healthier habit. For example, if you want to work on going to bed at a regular time, you pick, say, 11 pm as your trigger. Reinforce this by setting an alarm on your phone. Your reward each night is to apply your favorite body lotion before bed. You can cultivate a craving for the scent and sensation of that body lotion by thinking about it throughout the day. By anticipating the reward, you can develop a craving to drive the habit loop of going to bed at 11 pm.
Identify the problems and solve them.
Work through the following four areas of your life and see what habits can be replaced by brain-friendly strategies in 30 days…
Even when you feel chronically stressed, you have much more control than you imagine. First, what you think matters. Negative thoughts prompt your body to respond as if you are under threat.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve. Recognize when good enough is better than perfect. Also, be reasonable about what those around you, such as work colleagues, friends, and family, can achieve.
- Being present and focused on your work is a natural antidote to stress-induced absentmindedness.
- Smiling and laughter are natural stress-busters. Try smiling when you wake up, look in the mirror, put the kettle on, and greet someone. Smiling, laughing, and having fun are simply choices we make. If we actively make those choices every day, they will become habits.