Every day, I play something called the autoimmune disease lottery. Maybe you play it too.
I wake up, and wonder… what symptoms will I get today?
The rest of the day is adventure. Sometimes, the morning starts off *awesome*. I leap out of bed like a gazelle at 6:30am, and gather up all my aspirations for the day:
“What a beautiful day! I’m going to take a walk as soon as I am done eating breakfast.”
“You know what? I think I might just take the kids to the library, too… or better yet, maybe even the zoo!”
“I’ll prep dinner during naps so I’m not stressed when they wake up.”
Then, 6:32am rolls around, and then… oh no. The dreaded fog rolls in. I can feel it gently slithering over my brain, until it settles for good.
My day is gone.
Over the years, this stubborn symptom continuously makes its appearance (though, very rarely now in comparison to my earlier years). And through past trials, I developed my own plan to minimize the fog, and sometimes even eliminate it, while still having a somewhat productive day.
I call it my Brain Fog Protocol, and it’s what I do when I feel that fog creeping in.
But before I reveal my findings, I want to shed some positive light on bad, symptom-filled days as a result of living with autoimmune disease.
We often dwell in the depths of our symptoms without ever learning from what our bodies are trying to tell us. The key is to take a bad day and turn it into a data point.
I challenge you, every day, to take a look at your symptoms and think “What can I learn?” Reflect on WHY this could be occurring. Think about:
- Sleep duration and quality leading up to this point
- Stress level
- Exposure to various toxins
- Weather patterns
If you shift your focus from hating your symptoms to using them, you’ll discover your body’s unique triggers. This is no different than all those simple science experiments we did in elementary school. Tune in to your skill of observation and you’ll quickly uncover things no doctor will ever tell you. And that is very, very powerful.
A good day is a data point. A bad day is a data point. And as a result, you learn to appreciate them both. I recommend using a health journal to track all the deets (details) – a super simple daily habit that can literally change your life. Try it!
(Seriously. Here’s a tutorial on how to start your own.)
Why I’m Sharing My Personal Brain Fog Protocol
The purpose of me sharing this protocol with you is NOT to tell you what to do if you wake up with brain fog.
Instead, I want to show you an example of how you can take all of your unique observations and incorporate healing habits into your daily life as a result. Plus, you may find some clues to your own brain fog triggers as you read through it.
My Brain Fog Protocol is an exact result of years of personal observations (by using a health journal) and research. It seems that, for me, brain fog is one of the first symptoms to pop up and serves as a warning sign that more devastating symptoms are on their way if I don’t act quickly to calm it down.
So, if I wake up with brain fog, or if it pops out of nowhere mid-day, I immediately think:
The day I learned that brain fog is believed to be caused by inflammation, I kind of freaked out. I’m okay with inflammation in my muscles, or maybe inflammation when recovering from an injury, but the thought of my precious brain all inflamed made me cringe.
So, as soon as I feel the fog… I visualize my brain swelling (which may or may not be actually happening) and think about what I can do to decrease inflammation and support my body’s obvious cry for help.
So first, I re-evaluate my day’s schedule.
Reducing stress is the overall goal here. Stress can be a major root cause of brain fog, or a major contributor, as explained in this blog post by Aviva Romm MD.
On brain fog days, I clear my schedule of all things that are either going to stress me out (like driving) or make my brain fog worse (like going to high-cluttered or “busy” places like Trader Joe’s). I back-fill with low stress, low energy activities, such as a quiet day reading books with my kids, folding laundry, etc.
I learned that pushing through the brain fog and forcing myself to do things I knew made me worse just so that I didn’t seem weak, was not impressing anyone or achieving anything. Learning to slow down has been one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my brain fog, and has paid off in more ways than I can count.
Second, I think about my gut.
My poor gut! Bombarded with processed junk, toxins, antibiotics, and more throughout the years. We are just now learning the unfortunate effects of such aggressive treatments and nutrient-deficient diets.
My brain fog taught me that what I eat and when I eat is directly correlated with how my brain and body feel. Not surprisingly, current research is showing a major correlation between the state of our guts and our brains (just have a listen to this podcast by Chris Kresser and you’ll learn why).
Not only have I discovered that specific foods, such as gluten, dairy, coffee, sugar, and oatmeal can instantly turn on my brain fog (remember, this is for me personally), but so can imbalanced blood sugar levels throughout the day.
On top of that, stress can also affect gut health (there’s a reason we feel anxiety in our guts), which is why reducing my stress in step 1 is so crucial.
So, I think… okay, my brain is foggy, which might be my gut’s way of saying “Help!” and as a result, I focus on giving it some extra love, not just for one day, but for 1-2 weeks at least. This means low sugar, nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods, plus lots of bone broth and fermented foods to help rebuild and feed my gut bacteria.
(I should mention that if my brain fog becomes a chronic problem, I am off to my functional medicine doctor for testing.)
Third, I run away from dirty light!
I characterize dirty light as anything that’s not naturally produced. So fluorescent lighting, which the majority of us spend our entire day around, as well as blue light from my phone, TV, or laptop… it always makes me feel worse.
If you dig a little deeper, all of this unnatural light disturbs melatonin and cortisol levels, which have a direct impact on autoimmunity as explained right in the beginning of this video by Dr. Carrie Jones ND. (It’s fascinating. Please watch at least the beginning it if you haven’t already!)
So while it’s easy to just grab my phone and zone out for an entire day while scrolling my Facebook newsfeed, this doesn’t help me at all. Artificial light from screens, as well as the soul-sucking power of social media and the constant feeling of missing out (especially if you’re chronically ill) does the exact opposite of what my body so desperately needs.
What I need is real, healing full-spectrum light. And the best place to get that is outside. ASAP. So, I might even just push back breakfast for a hot second, and pack up my kids to go for a walk first thing in the morning.
If it’s warm, then we will stay outside all day so that we can absorb healing sunlight all day long (no sunscreen!). Let me tell you… this WORKS. Time and time again.
And finally, I sleep.
I’ve noticed that, like many others, inadequate sleep is a major trigger for any and all of my autoimmune related symptoms. Not surprisingly, a few days’ worth of sleep deprivation instantly makes me foggy.
It is especially hard with toddlers running around, but a daily routine is what saves me every time. I work hard to instill daily routines for naps and bedtime to ensure that both me and my kids have time to rest and sleep as needed. Sleep is just as important for them as it is for me.
So, I’ll nap if possible. But let’s be real… nothing is guaranteed. So regardless of the nap-situation, I still plan for a quiet, low-stress evening, possibly with a hot epsom-salt bath. And I always, always wear my blue-blocking glasses to keep my cortisol and melatonin levels in check. This is so important.
Have you noticed a common theme between all of these?
They are all related!
You could literally draw arrows back and forth between all of these. If just one of them is out of whack, it can have a full-body affect, leading to an autoimmune flare.
So healing, and heeding to the warning signs like brain fog, requires a holistic, full-body approach. And while my experience is certainly anecdotal, I know there are a ton of other people out there who have also experienced the power of holistic healing from autoimmune disease.
The first step is always to slow down. Take those foggy and/or symptomatic days and listen. Your body’s telling you something… what can you learn? Ask yourself:
What are my warning signs telling me things are about to get worse if I don’t do something? For me, it’s brain fog, but for you, it could be pain, anxiety, or a skin rash.
What types of events, foods, etc. have led to the development of my warning signs? Sleep, stress, and diet are my biggest triggers… what are yours?
What healing habits (or “protocols”) can I initiate as soon as I feel/see my warning signs? Start with your triggers and work backwards by incorporating different methods to recover.
Soon, you’ll know exactly what you need to do and brain fog, or whatever your worst symptom is, will no longer have any power. It’s an awesome feeling. It might take some time, patience, and experimentation, but it is so worth it when you finally feel in charge of your health.
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Hi! I’m Anna, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. After managing my own autoimmune diseases using lifestyle, habit, and mindset changes, I now work to teach others how to navigate the treacherous and confusing journey of chronic illness living. I firmly believe YOU hold the power to question, think critically, and become your own rock-solid advocate in a world full of unhealthy habits. Consider me, and my husband, Frank, your autoimmune disease health coaches. Are you ready?!