Living with brain fog sucks.
Plain and simple. There is no way around it. It’s easily one of the top 5 WORST symptoms of chronic illness. Do you agree?
I remember the first day I realized that something was wrong with my brain…
During my college years, my professor handed me an exam. I remember reading the questions without being able to comprehend them on any level. Meaning, it wasn’t just because I didn’t know the concepts. It was like every time I looked at the words, they just wouldn’t go into my brain! Like they just bounced off.
I failed that test. Real bad.
I failed that test and many others and beat myself up over it. I could barely hold a conversation with a friend and thought that I was just a cold-hearted person. I stopped tutoring other students because I couldn’t explain concepts.
Brain fog devoured my daily life.
And if you’re reading this, then perhaps its devouring yours, too. And for that, I am so sorry.
While I can’t give you the solution to your brain fog, I can give you some advice on how to live with it while you’re searching for it. These are the ways that I learned how to survive during my worst years.
My hope is that these 10 tips can help you to still enjoy your daily life, even when it seems that the struggles make it impossible to do so.
Living with Brain Fog: 10 Tips to Help You Cope
1. Find your brain fog triggers.
I know… this is the most obvious and hardest piece of advice to follow. It is MUCH easier said than done and can take a lot of time and observation. But having brain fog on a consistent basis for months or years will eventually show some patterns.
Using a health journal can be very beneficial for not only finding your triggers, but also discovering interventions that help you feel better. It’s one of the best and most thorough ways to learn what is and isn’t working for your body. (We even have a free Health Journal template to help you out! Just click the button below and we’ll send it to you.)
You’ll especially want to pay attention to:
- Blood Sugar
- Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption
- Sleep Duration and Frequency
- Stress Level
- Exercise Frequency and Intensity
- Gut Health
- Exposure to Toxins (mold, personal care products, cleaning products, etc.)
You’ll begin to notice that many of these things can play a part in the frequency and intensity of your brain fog from day-to-day. You might even be surprised (and disappointed) by some of them – two of my biggest triggers are oatmeal and coffee. I was in denial about the coffee (I love coffee…), but the oatmeal was completely unexpected.
2. Avoid multi-tasking.
I think many of us know that multi-tasking isn’t the smartest and most efficient way to work. Forcing our brains to work overtime by trying to juggle multiple things at once makes us feel paralyzed and pushes us into an unproductive stupor.
As our society has become more engaged with social media, smartphones, and various other gadgets that keep us constantly connected and stimulated, more research has revealed that this continuous multi-tasking overloads the brain.
Our brains work better when we focus on one task at a time.
So, pair multi-tasking with brain fog and you have a serious decrease in productivity and an increase in frustration. Now is a great time to let go of your multi-tasking habits and give yourself a break. Believe me, you’ll feel A LOT better.
If you need to multi-task, pair a simple task with a harder one to help balance the brain power.
3. Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery.
The type of brain fog I experienced wasn’t far off from the feeling of drunkenness.
Especially when paired with chronic fatigue, my speech slurred, my ability to process thoughts diminished, and my reaction times slowed to a halt. It was just as dangerous as drinking and driving, texting and driving, and other risky behaviors behind the wheel.
I know my brain fog paired with driving is a scary combination. Of course, in the past, I didn’t quite realize how much of a danger I really was to those around me. But after finally experiencing clarity for the past couple of years, I have learned to be more honest with myself about driving with brain fog.
But many of us don’t necessarily have a choice. We need to drive. We have work, school, kids, errands, etc. but if you have brain fog, I STRONGLY encourage you to think of ways to reduce your driving time. Some ideas are:
- Working from home
- Asking a loved one to drive you
- Using services like Uber
If you absolutely must drive, consider avoiding the freeway or heavy traffic areas where quick and clear thinking is needed. You can also try to commute at a slower time of day if you have that flexibility.
4. Leave the hard tasks for another day.
For the days that I really felt disconnected, I learned that anything that required a lot of thinking and problem-solving a made me feel even worse. So, I stopped trying to push through it and started to find other ways to be productive:
- Cleaning dishes
- Folding laundry
- Reducing clutter
- Cooking and baking
These tasks were surprisingly therapeutic and usually didn’t add any extra stress.
Don’t be discouraged if you postpone the more tedious tasks until you feel better. Remember, you still CAN be productive during foggy days. You just need to find what works for you.
5. Write down notes/reminders.
When I mentioned at the beginning that brain fog robbed me of my memories, I meant that it literally erased many of my memories from early childhood and beyond.
But it didn’t stop there. Soon, I noticed that my short-term memory was fading as well and lists/reminders became a life-saver.
Sticky notes, a to-do list, and “reminder” apps on smart phones are very helpful. A good tip is to plan out your day’s tasks and activities so that you can follow a list of items without thinking of what to do next. The more brain power you can save yourself, the better!
I still haven’t found a quick “SOS” type of remedy to alleviate brain fog. Sleep, though, is the closest I’ve gotten.
Sometimes, a nap during the day or a full night’s sleep was the answer I needed to kick a bad day of brain fog. It is also no surprise that sleep deprivation can be a major trigger, so prioritizing sleep is imperative for functioning and thinking clearly.
Brain fog or not, sleep is important. So be sure to make it a priority and take notice of whether or not a daily nap or a few extra hours at night seem to help.
7. Spend time outside.
This is my favorite tip. While I wish I never had to experience brain fog on any level, there were definitely some positives that came out of it and this was one of them – I started to appreciate the outdoors.
Sometimes, nature seemed to be the only thing I could connect with. There was no need to think, talk, or even move if I didn’t want to. Simply enjoying the sunlight, fresh air, and wildlife was refreshing and stress-relieving.
This is important, especially if you work indoors. Take a break and go for a walk or sit outside once or twice a day. Yes, even if it’s cold, rainy, or snowy – it’s not that bad once you get going.
8. Let loved ones know.
This can be difficult, embarrassing, and may seem like it’s not even worth it. I know that many of our loved ones, friends, colleagues, etc. do not seem to understand.
From their perspective, it may be difficult to be sympathetic. They simply cannot comprehend the feeling unless they have experienced it themselves.
But letting them know is better than hiding it. Sometimes the most unexpected people are incredibly sympathetic and supportive.
9. Say “no” if you need to.
This is my 2nd favorite tip. Why? Because learning to say “No” is a very useful skill but is something that many people find difficult to do.
But if you have brain fog, I believe this is a necessity and you will learn it quickly. It will benefit you for the rest of your life.
Social situations, for example, can be incredibly stressful. Small talk can actually be pretty exhausting if you can’t manage your thoughts and make conversation.
Take it from me…
If you aren’t feeling it, don’t go. Just say no (and don’t feel guilty).
I have found through my own experiences that some social situations, like those with close family and friends, may be helpful. Other events like graduation parties, wedding receptions, etc. tend to cause more stress due to the loud music and constant activity.
Pay attention to the types of social situations and outings that stress you out and don’t be afraid to avoid them in the future.
10. Listen to your body.
Symptoms are a gift! They aren’t necessarily pretty, but they are a very obvious way for your body to tell you that something isn’t right.
It’s best to respect your body’s messages by eating right and sleeping plenty.
If you choose to exercise, try not to push your body. Walking or stretching may be more beneficial for the mind than cardio and other high-intensity workouts.
Remember that brain fog can be paired with other symptoms and may be just another piece of the puzzle to help you find the root cause. I encourage you never to just focus on treating the symptoms, but to always dig deeper to find out WHY your body is giving you signals.
Start searching right away for a functional medicine practitioner, holistic doctor, nutritionist, or naturopathic doctor in your area that will take your symptoms of brain fog seriously.
I also recommend reading the following blog posts written by various functional medicine practitioners to learn more about possible causes:
Finally, just remember to give yourself a break – it’s not easy. But, if you are determined, you WILL find the answers you need to banish brain fog forever.
In the meantime, remember to still have some fun and enjoy the simple things. If you’re like me, then maybe you’ll forget some of the memories you’ll make. But you can at least look back and say that you didn’t let brain fog keep you from finding and experiencing joy within your life.
Do you have brain fog? If so, share some tips on what has helped you.
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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, so you can find the healing you deserve.