Brain Fog: What It Is and How to Manage It
Do you feel tired most of the time? Struggle to concentrate? Does your mind "dance between numbness and helplessness" ? You're probably dealing with brain fog. For many of us, brain fog is part of our daily lives.
If you are experiencing it, don't worry. Brain fog is not a "medical or scientific term; it is [a term] used by individuals to describe how they feel when their thinking is sluggish, fuzzy, and not sharp" . Some also describe it as "mental fatigue" .
Know that if you are "feeling pretty mentally foggy right now", it "doesn't necessarily mean you have a mental health condition. Given the circumstances, it's really only to be expected" .
We all experience it at some point in our lives. Whether that's from too much screen time or when we've got the flu. Usually, you rest up, and it goes away; your thinking returns to normal, you're more sharp and awake. But what happens when it doesn't, and what causes it?
Brain fog is avoidable to an extent. There are healthy steps you can take to minimise your likelihood of experiencing it.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again; a good nights sleep is imperative. It isn't always easy or realistic to get a perfect 8 hours of sleep every single night. But, by building a decent wind-down routine, you should experience better sleep quality:
- Try not to look at a screen up to an hour before you go to sleep.
- Try to sleep at the same time every night.
- Invest in good bedding; these make a huge difference.
- Get good blackout curtains, or for a more affordable alternative, wear an eye mask.
- If you can, dim your lights an hour before bed.
- Make your bedroom your sanctuary. If it's avoidable, don't do work in there. Use it as a relaxing space for you.
When we say to exercise, we don't mean run ten miles every morning (but if that's your thing, go for it!). Whilst most of us are working at home, it's easy to slip into sitting at our desks for four hours straight before moving. So every hour, for at least five minutes, stand up and stretch your legs. And, if you can, go for a nice walk at some point in your day.
Food glorious food
"Your nutrition doesn't just play an important role in keeping your body healthy – it affects your brain health, which can impact your wellbeing" . Try to maintain a balanced diet. "If you're not eating enough, you may experience brain fog and feel irritated easy" . Also, remember it's just as important to stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to brain fog.
Take a break
Now that many of us work from home, it's sometimes hard to stop work and start relaxing. You must take regular breaks in your day, and if possible, separate your workspace from your living space. Taking breaks, even if it's just looking outside your window for five minutes, is crucial: "It gives your brain the time it needs to relax and recuperate and ensures you're not pushing yourself too hard" . If you are overwhelmed, step away and switch off for a bit.
If you're experiencing any of the following, it is likely that you have brain fog:
- "trouble putting thoughts together
- difficulty concentrating or remembering what you were doing
- physical or mental exhaustion
- lack of motivation and interest in the things you'd usually do
- thoughts that seem hazy or difficult to grasp" .
When suffering from brain fog, it can be really difficult to get things done or go about your day to day life.
The list of preventative measures can also work as solutions for your brain fog. Here are some other things you can do when experiencing brain fog:
- Meditate: Meditation can really help to clear your mind. It isn't as wishy-washy as it seems. The basics of meditation are just to focus on your breathing. Try apps like Headspace or Calm and just give it a go, you may be surprised how much it helps you.
- Mindfulness: Following that, mindfulness is a great tool to use when it comes to mental clarity. When you're on your daily walk, take note of your surroundings. What can you hear? What can you see? Can you feel the gravel shifting under your shoes? Breathe on the back of your hand. What does it feel like? This is a very simple way to begin being mindful, but it can be very effective.
- Do more of what you love: If you enjoy gardening or building lego or crocheting, do it. Whatever it is that makes you happy, try to make time to do that at least every couple of days. Your happiness should be a priority.
Of course, to know what steps to take to improve your brain fog, it's important to know what might be causing it. For example, if you're experiencing brain fog after staring at a screen all day, you know to take a break and get some fresh air.
But, "if you can’t quite pinpoint what’s creating all the background noise in your mind, working with a therapist can be a big help". If you're experiencing brain fog for a long time, like every day for a few weeks, then seeking some professional care is a worthwhile move. Whilst very common, severe brain fog can be an indication of depression or anxiety.
Mindfulness, fresh air and relaxation can all help with your brain fog. Take time for yourself, and remember to wind down.
- Radin S. There’s a Name for the Reason You Can’t Get Anything Done Right Now [Internet]. SELF. 2020 [cited 2021 Mar 12].
- MD AEB. What is COVID-19 brain fog — and how can you clear it? [Internet]. Harvard Health Blog. 2021 [cited 2021 Mar 12].