10 Tips For Navigating Your Way Through Brain Fog
There are several chronic ailments that affect cognitive function. Also, certain medications can cause forgetfulness or confusion. The non-medical term for this is brain fog, and it seems pretty apt. I like to compare it to trying to run while knee-deep in mud.
I’ve been dealing with varying amounts of brain fog for the past 14 years due to fibromyalgia, occasional bouts of low glucose levels, and neurological effects of Sjogren’s syndrome. I figure I’ve lost probably 15 points off my IQ. While I haven’t been able to rid myself of the fog, I have developed tricks to cope with it and minimize its effects. Here are my top 10:
1. There’s an app (or pocket calendar) for that.
With smart phones and various other portable electronic devices, you have many options for storing appointments, phone numbers and keeping to-do lists. Some devices let you record memos, handy when you think of something important when you’re away from home. If you’re like me, though, and have trouble learning how to use electronics, you can always go old school. I keep a pocket calendar and a notepad and pen in my purse at all times as well as next to every phone in the house (yes, I still have plug-in phones because I can never find a cordless when it rings). Whenever I make a follow-up appointment at the doctor’s office, I check my purse calendar to make sure that date isn’t taken and then write the appointment down immediately. The calendar has a section for phone numbers and addresses. When I need to remember more than three things (that seems to be the magic number where I max out my brain), I make a list on the notepad. I also keep typewritten lists in my purse of all my doctors and medications as well as a small cheat sheet for computing tips.
2. The “fibromyalgia” purse (or wallet).
It is said that one shouldn’t plan to fail, but with cognitive dysfunction, one should plan to forget, just in case. My tendency to space out important things like my driver’s license and credit cards without noticing led me to acquire what I have nicknamed the “fibromyalgia” purse. It is medium-sized but has pockets for all the items I need to keep track of. Everything I carry has a designated space in the purse so I can find them quickly and can tell immediately if I am missing anything. A few years ago, I accidentally left one of my credit cards on a checkout counter and left the store. But I looked in my purse once in my car and saw the empty slot where the card was supposed to go, and I knew then what I had done. I got back to the store before anyone had a chance to run off with my card. Another necessary feature of a “fibromyalgia” purse is a long shoulder strap that allows me to carry the purse crosswise on my body, wearing it like I would another article of clothing. This means I won’t have to set the purse down every time I need to remove something from it and lessens the chance of me losing it.
3. Use it or lose it.
Your brain needs daily exercise just like your body. Fortunately, this is fairly easy to accomplish. Do puzzles that appeal to you, like jumbles, Sudoku or crossword. Play board games or watch TV game shows. It doesn’t matter if you get the answer before the other contestants do. It doesn’t even matter if you get the right answer. What counts is the act of trying to figure it out. If you can handle it, read daily too.
4. Take advantage of your best time of day.
You may notice that mental tasks are easier during certain hours, so if you can, do your most important activities then. I am slow to wake and know not to hop right out of bed and try to drive somewhere because I could get lost then. It is also unwise for me to attempt something mentally taxing after supper. Ideally, I try to be productive beginning approximately three hours into my day. That is when errands, phone calls and social activity work best for me.
5. Eliminate distractions.
When you have cognitive dysfunction, there are certain times when multi-tasking could be dangerous. I have learned not to engage in conversation while cooking because once I try to pay attention on what is being said, I will completely forget I have something else going on until the smoke alarm sounds. If you are studying something you will need to remember, you might want to make sure the television, computer and any source of music are all switched off until you are done. While you are driving, do not do ANYTHING else. Better yet, if you are traveling with another person, have them drive so you might still be able to chat safely.
6. Stressing out about brain fog leads to MORE brain fog.
Ever panicked during an exam and forgotten all the information you spent hours studying? Strong emotion can make brain fog worse. The next time you go completely blank, instead of becoming angry at yourself or freaking out, take a deep breath and wait a moment. You may find you still have the knowledge and be able to access it when you are calmer. If what you wanted to do or say or remember is truly gone, it is generally not worthwhile to beat yourself up over it. Keeping a sense of perspective and a sense of humor helps.
7. Out of sight, out of mind.
Sometimes being too tidy works against you. I find that when I put items away that I’m going to need later, I forget about them completely. When I have something to mail, I put it right on top of my purse to remind me to take it with me the next time I leave the house. Paperwork that needs to go in the basement at some point I put in plain view on the corner of the kitchen countertop nearest the top of the staircase. And items associated with a particular project on the computer get stacked right in front of the monitor, probably to the annoyance of my husband, but it gives me a visual gauge of how much time I need to set aside to clear the pile. If you are on a lot of medications and/or nutritional supplements, sort them into pill minders and put the pill minder someplace near where you will likely be at the time you need to take them. For instance, my morning medications are on a shelf on the headboard right next to my pillow so I will remember to take them as soon as I get out of bed. Leave sticky notes on your bathroom mirror if that helps.
8. Keep it simple to feel less stupid.
When running errands, do them in an order that is logical to you, such as beginning with whatever is closest to your home and working your way outward so you don’t confuse yourself by backtracking. Type up a permanent grocery list on the computer of what you use regularly, print out copies and check off items as you run out of them rather than racking your brains on shopping day figuring out what you need. Try making one-dish recipes so you don’t have to keep track of multiple appliances at once. Don’t make anything more complicated than it needs to be. If there is an important project that absolutely must get done that day, tackle it first so you don’t get sidetracked by any time-wasting frivolous activities. The easier you make it to succeed, the better your sense of accomplishment will be and the less frustrating your brain fog will be.
9. Routine may be boring, but it’s easier to remember.
Become a creature of habit. If you do the same thing at the same time each day, it will be easier to recognize when you’ve accidentally left something out. I used to forget to eat meals until I started doing them by the clock. At bedtime, calmly envision your plans for the following day in chronological order, including what you intend to wear and eat and accomplish. The repetitiveness of make a mental list of even the most ordinary activities could very well lull you to sleep, which is the general idea. I find that when I have already decided the night before what my meals and attire will be, it frees up my brain a bit for other things.
10. Garbage leads to garble.
Take the best physical care of yourself that you can. Fatigue can exacerbate brain fog, so develop good sleep habits and seek medical advice in the case of persistent insomnia. Eat small, frequent meals containing lean protein and fresh fruits and veggies (unless your doctor instructs otherwise) to keep your glucose and energy levels stable. I find drinking green tea helpful, and drinking plenty of water generally doesn’t hurt. If you are capable of exercise in any form, do so regularly. Also engage in regular periods of relaxation. Balancing activity with relaxation will make you feel less overwhelmed in general, which enhances clearer thinking.
Finally, make sure you haven’t overlooked a concurrent untreated medical condition that could be contributing to your brain fog. Have your thyroid and glucose levels checked periodically. If you experience a sudden dramatic worsening of cognitive dysfunction, particularly if it is accompanied by severe headache, numbness or loss of motor skills, head straight for the emergency room.
Dealing with a brain that no longer works quite right is a challenge. But I do my best to make sure it doesn’t ruin my life.
Article written by staff writer, Karen Brauer
Karen Brauer is a happily married woman in her forties living in a little house on the prairie. Her passions include: photography; classic and some modern literature; classic, foreign and some modern film; and music of all kinds. Her blog is called “browser life”: http://browserlife.blogspot.com/