In Search of Clear Skies: How to Escape Your Brain Fog

In Search of Clear Skies: How to Escape Your Brain Fog

 

Last month I thought I had a serious case of writer’s block.

It made sense. I had a lot going on in my life at the time — our beloved family dog died unexpectedly, my toddler was sick three times in a row, we all got Covid, and we’ve been forced to find a new place to live. It would be weird if I wasn’t distracted and fuzzy-headed.

I’ve suffered through writer’s block before, but this time, nothing I’ve successfully tried before worked. I tried writing exercises to get back into a solid habit, listening to podcasts to get my creative juices flowing, and reading blogs and other media in an attempt to find inspiration, but I came up empty-handed at every turn.

I was utterly and completely unable to produce any content worth reading. I couldn’t get my brain to think up, organize, or write anything cohesive or compelling, and it was killing me.

I felt powerless, useless, and worst of all — I felt stupid.

Finally, I realized that I wasn’t suffering from writer’s block; or rather, it wasn’t solely to blame. What was clogging up the pipes in my brain was brain fog, and I was tackling the issue all wrong.

Once I knew what I was dealing with, I could take the appropriate steps to clear my befuddled head. The solution to my fogginess, however, was a lot less straightforward than I would have thought.

Covid Confusion

My first clue that I was dealing with brain fog and not writer’s block was that a few weeks prior to my brain effectively hitting the dimming switch, I had Covid.

Did I say that already? I did? Sorry; I do that a lot these days.

Covid-related brain fog is actually really common for recovered patients. According to studies, around 80% of those who have had Covid-19 experience some degree of memory and cognitive struggles, so much so that there are several medical articles covering Covid-19 brain fog specifically.

It’s common knowledge that Covid affects the body in multiple ways, and those ailments don’t stop at the brain. We’ve all heard the stories about Covid “long haulers” dealing with seemingly permanent cognitive issues, as well as some even scarier stories about encephalitis (inflammation of the brain, which can be life-threatening) and strokes. There is a risk of stroke with your run-of-the-mill flu, too, but for those with Covid, the risk of stroke increases seven-fold.

The reason Covid affects the brain so much is due to the lack of oxygen to the vital organ. While those effects are scary, serious brain injury is relatively rare — what is more common is the aforementioned Covid-19 brain fog.

Brain fog is still pretty common among those who haven’t had Covid, however. Memory loss, feelings of confusion, the inability to think clearly, and the sense that you’re walking through a literal fog are often how sufferers of brain fog describe the experience.

As someone who’s muddled her way through it, I can tell you that it’s not a lot of fun.

Even in the midst of my fog, though, I knew what needed to be done. I did what any dutiful researcher would do — I researched. I went on a mission to find not only information, but tried-and-true solutions to clear my head, and once I began to look, I found that solutions are everywhere.

Brain fog is a pretty common issue, it would seem.

Make Like Ancel Keys and Eat Like the Greek

It’s easiest to start with the things you can control, such as what you eat.

There have been multiple studies that show a diet of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fish can help you beat your brain fog — in fact, eating the wrong diet might be the most common cause of brain fog in the first place.

Commonly referred to as the Mediterranean Diet, the combination of healthy fats, fresh produce and whole grains provides anti-inflammatory benefits for both body and brain. The diet is also relatively low in processed sugar, which is good because while your brain can use glucose for fuel, sugar provides a “burst” of fuel and then burns out pretty quickly. Eating a balanced diet like the Mediterranean Diet can help keep sugar intake comparatively low, keeping your brain on a steady intake of fuel to prevent crashing.

Beyond that, it’s helpful to reduce or, better yet, cut out vegetable oils. While healthy fats and oils like fish, nuts, olive oil and coconut oil can (and should) be incorporated into your diet if you suffer from brain fog — fatty acids are broken down into ketones, which the brain can use when glucose levels are lower — vegetable oils like canola and sunflower oils should be avoided. These oils contain omega-6 fatty acids, which are known to contribute to brain inflammation.

As I said earlier, brain inflammation is mega-bad.

Beyond the possibility of brain inflammation, omega-6 fatty acids also lead to depression and other mental illnesses, not to mention the increased risk of strokes and links to Alzheimer’s disease.

Just say “no.”

Other dietary concerns related to brain fog involve sorting out any nutritional deficiencies you might have. Vitamins D and B12 and Omega-3 fatty acids are common culprits when it comes to deficiencies, and these can all be found at your local pharmacy.

A change in diet can often stop your brain fog in its sluggish tracks, so addressing any of those issues first just makes good sense.

It’s Good For What “Ales” You

Drinking alcohol can exacerbate and may even contribute to your brain fog issues.

I know. Shocking.

I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol in over three years, but I’m not the norm. Considering that more than half of us are drinking regularly, alcohol-related brain fog could be a pretty common issue, too.

I’m not suggesting that everyone goes stone-cold sober for the rest of their lives (although, I actually am a lifer — drinking does no one any favours) but as you try to get past your brain fog, reducing your alcohol intake could make or break the game for you. According to Dr. Marina Tsoy-Podosenin, MD, Ph.D., an addiction psychiatrist, alcohol consumption changes your brain chemistry instantly:

“[Consuming] alcohol increases activity of GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid), the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, and suppresses activity of the neurons, causing slurred speech, unsteady gait, lapses in short-term memory and slowed reflexes…” — source

A temporary reduction in alcohol can give your befuddled brain time to heal and rejuvenate itself, so if you’re serious about thinking clearly again, consider taking a little sobriety vacation.

Or ditch the stuff entirely, like me.

You can read more about my sobriety story and the benefits a sober lifestyle can offer you here.

Quiet the Mind

It’s not uncommon for brain fog to be stress-related. Since so many cognitive functions are impacted by brain fog, meditation can be one of the best cures for it.

Meditation is all about quieting down a busy mind, which is what often causes stress and the subsequent brain fog in the first place. This ancient practice helps you breathe and bring your consciousness back to the present, and regular meditation can — and often does — help to reduce the body’s stress hormones. In fact, the consistent practice of meditation has shown a decrease in activity in the brain’s amygdala, which is the brain’s centre for emotional behaviour — particularly fearful or threatening stimuli.

When it comes to curing your brain fog, there’s no reason not to try this simple, effective practice. Even something as simple as mindful breathing can help to clear your fuzzy head, but if you’re looking for a step-by-step instruction manual, I’ve got you covered: mindful.org has a great beginner’s guide to meditative practise that is easy to follow and benefit from.

There are also meditation apps that can help — I would be shocked if anyone hasn’t heard of Headspace or other apps like it — but simply sitting still, focusing on your breathing, and meditating on your thoughts can be very effective while you are defoggin’ your noggin.’

Walk More, Worry Less

Did you know that you can also meditate while you walk?

There are already a ton of benefits to walking regularly, such as helping you to maintain a healthy weight (I started my own successful weight loss journey with daily walks,) improving your cardiovascular fitness, and reducing stress. Who knew that brain fog could also be lessened by this simple and enjoyable activity?

As I said before, one way that brain fog can occur is when oxygen to the brain is limited; the best way to get that oxygen moving again is through physical activity. Walking — especially walking briskly — can be a great way to make that happen.

Gentle exercise in general is great for your overall health, especially when paired with a nutritious diet and sufficient, quality sleep.

Let’s Begin by Taking a Smallish Nap or Two

Winnie the Pooh — or, rather, A.A. Milne — may have been on to something there. Sleep deprivation is more common than we think, with 1 in 3 adults not getting nearly enough sleep each night, so it’s no wonder so many of us suffer from brain fog.

I remember feeling pretty dim-witted back when my youngest was still a brand new little potato. He was a terrible, awful, bad, horrible, dreadful, abominable sleeper. There are other descriptors I could throw in there, but I think you get my point. He would sleep for twenty-minute stretches, day or night, and that trend continued until he was about 6 months old and miraculously started sleeping an hour or two at a time.

I don’t know many people who function effectively on less than a couple of hours of sleep a night over a prolonged period of time, and true to form, I barely held it together.

Now, my son sleeps like a dream, as does his older sister, so my inability to get a good night of solid rest is on me. Lack of sleep definitely contributed to my brain fog issues, but I thankfully figured out how to finally get some decent and much-needed shut-eye. I’m pleased to share that it’s a simple, if not the easiest or fastest, solution.

The best way to improve your sleep is to improve your lifestyle, especially during the day: go outside and soak up some sun, get some fresh air, eat a balanced diet with plenty of water, go easy on the caffeine, and go to bed no later than 10 p.m. if you can. A very dark room (black-out curtains can be found virtually anywhere) and some consistent white noise can help put you in a restful state and induce some solid shut-eye.

As I said, it’s not easy to get into this kind of groove and it takes time. But any steps you make towards reaching your goal of getting 7 hours (preferably more) of restful sleep a night will be a huge help in your quest to clear up your brain fog.

You’ll also avoid crazy bags under your eyes, so there’s that.

Create Something New

This is my favourite part.

Creativity is a skill that we, as creators, are always seeking and honing. Usually, while under the thumb of brain fog, your creativity can be dampened; your focus can be utterly lost. Sometimes, however, being in a state of fogginess can actually help you create something you may not have considered before.

Why? The answer is surprisingly simple and it makes a ton of sense: when you are extremely focused on your work, you are generally zeroed in on one particular task. You’ll be able to get your work done, unlike when you are suffering from brain fog, but you’re also missing out on something called your “diffuse mode.”

Diffuse mode is a relaxed, dream-like state of consciousness and doesn’t happen when you’re hyper-focused on your work. In this comparatively fuzzy-headed state, your brain is more likely to receive stimuli from seemingly random places, and ideas can sail in that may not have occurred to you in your more focused moments.

When your brain is stuck in this foggy state, it’s less likely to filter out ideas that, in more focused states, it would deem unimportant or unnecessary.

Therefore, use this time to jot down ideas and go with the proverbial flow, because, according to science, there’s no better time to create.

Fuzzy Closing Thoughts

Brain fog is, thankfully, a temporary problem most of the time. That doesn’t mean it’s a lot of fun, however, and it’s normal to want a quick fix to help you get back on your feet.

Give your body and your brain time to heal. While tackling dietary issues and your activity level are great places to start the process, getting through brain fog is going to take time. It will take time for your body to process a new type of diet. It will take time to get used to your new post-dinner walk every day. It will take time to adjust to your new bedtime.

There are no quick fixes — when it comes to curing your brain fog, a sustainable, healthier lifestyle is the best way forward and that doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s worth noting that there may be underlying health issues preventing you from clearing your head, so speak to your healthcare provider if you find no improvement after a few weeks of your new lifestyle. Most cases of brain fog clear up with some simple lifestyle changes, however. So be patient; be good to your body and mind. In time, you’ll break through the fog and once again find those blue, clear skies.

This post was previously published on Better Humans.

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The post In Search of Clear Skies: How to Escape Your Brain Fog appeared first on The Good Men Project.

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