8 Ways to Manage Brain Fog
My Boaz and I were camping out in Florida while working with the builder on the details of our house. Unfortunately, I’ve had too much stress, not enough sleep, and storms swept through Central Florida that triggered flares, including brain fog. It’s challenging to think through a troublesome issue, write coherently, and answer questions intelligently. It’s as if someone took all my thoughts and put them in a crazy maze or, on a really awful day, tossed all my words in the air, scattering them at random everywhere. From the outside, it must look like people with autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, and chemo brain from cancer treatments “aren’t quite all there.” I don’t know how many times I’ve struggled to answer someone’s question or figure out a solution, only to fail during a flare. The person waiting for my response usually becomes impatient. They roll their eyes and have some smart-aleck response, “Are you SURE you know what you’re doing?” or “I’ll ask someone else. Thanks!” people have even spoken slowly and loudly at me. It’s frustrating from inside the fog, too. I’ve learned a few things to help myself deal with a foggy brain, so here are a few tips I use to help reduce brain fog and its effects, as well as how to respond to impatient people.
Get Enough Sleep
Anyone who has pulled all-nighters in college can relate to that feeling of “not being all there.” For those of us with chronic pain and fatigue issues, getting enough sleep is imperative! Unfortunately, it also means many of us don’t sleep well either. Make your bedroom sleep-worthy by darkening it with good light-blocking curtains. A comfortable pillow and mattress and a suitable sleep temperature make your sleep environment conducive for restful Z’s. If those aren’t enough, either reduce noise or use white noise like a fan and snuggle under a weighted blanket if it would help.
Chronic pain can cause pain-somnia. Be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations when it comes to pain medications and sleep aids. Don’t take sleep aids without your health care provider’s approval because you could suffer from drug interactions. Also, some are addictive. It’s best to ask about your doctor and follow you’re their recommendations. I take pain meds about an hour before I head to bed when I have a lot of pain. I also have fibromyalgia meds that I take at night to help me get restful sleep, but only when I’ve been having trouble with sleep. These suggestions are likely to help you with regular nights and some difficult ones. But even with our best efforts, we can still have a bad night. One terrible night every great once in a while is much better than most of the time. (Sleep Foundation)
We all have triggers that cause flares. It might take a while to figure out yours, so look up your illness(es) to learn what the common triggers are. Keep a journal to record your flares, what led up to them, and when they subside. Avoid the ones you can, and rest through the ones you can’t.
I learned this week that the camper doesn’t filter out UV rays. I became pretty ill without adequate sun protection sitting in our camper during the peak UV hours of the day. Brain fog swept in quickly, my joints were swollen and painful, and it felt like someone pulled the plug on my energy source. Shaking slightly, I thought my blood sugar might have dipped, so I ate some carbs to see if it helped, but it didn’t. Finally, I laid down for a nap covering up to reduce my sun exposure from the windows. Although I felt like a mess the rest of the day, I reduced how badly it affected me. My husband realized how much the sun affects me and helped keep me from getting sick the rest of the day. (Lupus Foundation)
Dehydration can cause confusion and dizziness, which many of us experience more pain and fatigue often than the average person. Some diseases are more prone. Your body systems need water to function properly. Drink 6-8 glasses (8oz) of water per day. That doesn’t mean coffee, tea, soda pop, or sweetened drinks: pure, clear water—the H20 variety. Fruits and vegetables that have high water content are also helpful for hydration. (Insider)
Keep Blood Sugar Levels Level
During the day, we experience peaks and valleys in our energy. These peaks and valleys also affect brain fog. One of the ways you can reduce brain fog is to eat regular, evenly spaced meals each day with healthy, low-calorie snacks during your big valley moments. For example, eat some complex carbs (1-2 servings) at each meal, like sweet potatoes, wild rice, or quinoa. Always pair carbs with lean protein like cold-water fish, lean turkey or chicken breast, or other lean protein (1 serving). Load up with fresh vegetables and fruit without heavy syrups or fat-laden sauces. Eat a snack of ½ serving of carbs and protein during long stints before lunch, like midday. Keeping your sugar levels level keeps your thought processes level. (EUFIC)
Avoid fatty foods like gravy, full-fat anything, refined carbs like white bread, and sugary foods. These cause your body to become sluggish during the digestion process while causing overall inflammation in your body. Slow processes increase brain fog. By leaving these foods alone, you will increase your alertness. (National Institute of Health)
Exercise or Take a Walk
One of the best things you can do for your body and brain is move. When you walk or exercise, blood circulates better getting oxygen, nutrients, and feel-good hormones to your brain. As you work out, fill your lungs with fresh air. As you move, you will begin to feel the fog lift. Simply walking 10-15 minutes helps if that is all you can do. Take a brisk walk after a five-minute warm-up, gradually picking up your pace. Continue at a steady stride for thirty minutes each day for best overall health. A healthy body fuels a healthy brain. (Harvard)
Make Apps Work for You
Most people with chronic pain and fatigue issues experience brain fog, regardless of what they do. At least, if you do the things I mentioned earlier, the fog won’t be as bad most of the time. However, when you constantly forget things or make mistakes, it’s time to get apps on your electronic device to work for you.
Some apps I use are:
- Notes app on iPhone. Certainly, there are Android apps like these if you have an Android smartphone. I write notes to myself and put them in categories so I can find them.
- Lists app on iPhone. I make my To-Do list, grocery list, and other essential lists here. I can check them off as I complete them, so I know what I still need to do.
- Electronic and print calendars. I have often written appointments on a physical calendar, then put them into my phone calendar. I also stand at the counter at my doctor’s office to set my next appointment into the calendar on my phone. I also accept the appointment card given to me to compare and make sure I didn’t make a mistake. Finally, I set alerts to remind myself the day before and the day of those appointments.
- Install a Symptoms app for your health condition. Health conditions like lupus, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis have flares and remissions. You can track your peaks and valleys to know your triggers better. When you see a day will be difficult, you can adjust accordingly.
- Tiles to find important items like your keys, glasses, etc. My husband, with his ADD/HD, loses things all the time. He received Tiles for Christmas one year to help him find his essential items. I don’t use them since I’m usually the human catalog at our house. The tiles link to his iPhone. When he needs to find his keys, he checks his Tile app to see where they are.
- Find My Phone feature on iPhone. Our smartphones are the modern-day Swiss army knife.
- Buzz My Phone app on Apple Watch. I use this feature to find my phone when I’ve misplaced it. I don’t have to ask my husband to call my phone for me.
Sigh, Hum, or Sing
When we hum or sing, we have to breathe. Breathing makes oxygen flow through our bodies. So when you feel foggy, try one of these suggestions and see if you feel clearer-headed. It may not take it all away, but it helps reduce the fog. You don’t have to compromise your faith practice by participating in New Age breathing meditation to benefit from more oxygen in your system. (Healthline)
When we sigh, we reduce stress and anxiety. Reduced stress and anxiety deals with two triggers for flares. When you decrease these two triggers, you improve your cognitive function. (National Institute of Health)
Ask God for Help
He has often given me insight when I couldn’t have what I needed on my own. God is outside of our fog, outside of our circumstances—but He is with us. Sometimes, God clears the fog for us. Just remember that in our weaknesses, His strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
You will have days that it won’t matter what you do to reduce brain fog. You will simply need to rest.
Use Pat-Answers for Shortcomings
Over the years, I’ve learned to stop using my diagnosis of “fibromyalgia” or “MCVD” when explaining the results of brain fog or other related issues. But, unfortunately, to those individuals who don’t understand, it sounds like an excuse. So instead, I’ve changed how I handle them. Here are a few that have helped me:
- For an obvious mistake, I’ve said in the past, “Oh, I had a brain blip. Let me fix that.” Everyone experiences a lapse in cognitive processes at one time or another. Almost everyone can relate. Just be willing to correct the mistake and set up a system to avoid those mistakes in the future.
- Not Enough Coffee!—I need caffeine to give me a boost in the mornings. This explanation works alongside “not enough sleep.” Again, most people can relate to these, and we need to make good on our commitments or correct mistakes.
- “I’m just not feeling well today.”—Most people don’t feel well at some time or another, but be careful of using this as your regular pat answer. It only works once in a while. Otherwise, people will expect you to go to the doctor.
- “I don’t know what I was thinking!”—this is much like a brain blip.
Whatever you do, reduce the number of mistakes and miscues by putting helps in place to minimize the impact of brain fog in your life. Otherwise, people will begin to think you are making excuses, even with pat answers. As long as they don’t happen often, people will think you are like them. That’s what you want, isn’t it?
Chime in! Feel free to share some of your tips and tricks in the comments below.
May God bless you!