Beating Brain Fog, The 5 Complete expert’s guide

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.

brain fog

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…

Stress less

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.

Sleep better

If your nights are less than restful, these steps are proven to help better sleep:

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. Never hit the snooze button – get up as soon as you wake up.
  • Get natural daylight as soon as possible after you wake up and throughout the day.
  • Exercise first thing in the morning.
  • Start to dim artificial light from about 8 pm.
  • Keep your evenings calm as you approach bedtime, in particular.
  • Sleep in the dark and beware of blue light; leave any devices on charge outside your bedroom.

Feed your brain

What you eat directly affects how your brain functions.

  • Adopt a Mediterranean-style diet and gradually remove unhealthy foods from your freezer, fridge, and cupboards.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain performance and memory and can reduce inflammation. Food sources are fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and some plant oils, such as flaxseed.
  • Iron and Vitamin B12 are essential for healthy brain function. If you think you may be deficient, speak to your doctor about getting tested.
  • Keep your brain hydrated. Divide your weight in pounds by two and aim for that many fluid ounces of water daily.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, as obesity and high BMI are associated with cognitive dysfunction.

Exercise and look after your mental health.

While research shows that aerobic exercise is essential to boost brain health, mental exercise is vital, too.

  • Challenging your brain with new experiences and activities promotes neuroplasticity. Learning is like a powerful, brain-changing drug that generates brain cells enriches brain networks, and opens new routes that the brain can use to bypass damage.
  • As well as specific exercise sessions in all forms, look for opportunities to incorporate more movement into your daily routine and break up long spells of sitting with standing or moving for a few minutes.

Worth noting: “It is important to remember that brain fog can also be a prominent feature of conditions such as ME and long Covid,” explains Good Housekeeping’s GP Dr Sarah Jarvis. “For anyone struggling with the smallest tasks due to these conditions, solving all their problems with lifestyle changes isn’t realistic. However, even in such situations, some small changes Dr. Brennan suggests can make a positive difference.”

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