Although it’s not a medical condition as such, most of us know what it’s like to have a foggy brain, to feel like your head is full of cotton wool affecting your ability to focus or concentrate.
It’s incredibly frustrating when you can’t find the specific word you’re searching for, or remember the time of a medical appointment, or why you walked into the kitchen so purposefully.
Brain fog. It affects a lot of people with musculoskeletal conditions, and is now getting a lot of media because many people who’ve had COVID are also experiencing it months after they had the virus.
But what is brain fog? And what can you do about it?
Brain fog is a term used to describe a bunch of symptoms – such as difficulty concentrating or focusing, forgetfulness and not being able to think clearly. It’s not a medical term, but it’s a very simple, effective term that we all use.
It can be caused by a number of things including:
- medical conditions – e.g. musculoskeletal conditions, anaemia, depression, diabetes
- medications – some meds used for managing musculoskeletal conditions, but also other conditions such as high cholesterol, can cause brain fog
- poor quality sleep
- poor diet lacking in essential vitamins and minerals
- not enough exercise
How is brain fog treated?
If you’re experiencing brain fog on a regular basis, and it’s affecting your ability to do daily tasks, or to work, it’s important that you talk with your doctor.
Your doctor will look at treating any underlying causes. For example, if it turns out you’re anaemic you may be prescribed iron tablets. They may also review all of your current meds to see if brain fog could be a potential side effect. If they find that your medication is the issue, you may be prescribed alternatives medications. But having the discussion with your doctor as soon as brain fog becomes an issue is key to getting it under control as much as possible.
Other things you can do to decrease the effects of brain fog include:
Get enough good quality sleep. I know, I know, this is often really hard to do. It seems that when we’re at our most tired, it’s almost impossible to sleep well, with pain being a massive contributor to poor quality sleep. But working on getting a good night’s sleep is vital – not only to help combat brain fog but because it also has positive effects on our pain, fatigue, mood, weight and so much more.
Exercise and be physically active. Again, this has far reaching benefits beyond brain fog, but just getting up and moving your body, going for a walk, doing some tai chi or yoga, can help clear your mind. And exercising regularly will help improve your sleep quality, which will in turn reduce the risk of brain fog.
Look at your diet. Is it healthy and well-balanced? Are you drinking enough water and staying hydrated? If it’s lacking important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function at its best, this may be contributing to your inability to concentrate or think clearly. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian if you need help assessing your diet and making healthy changes.
Track your brain fog. Being self-aware of your symptoms, including brain fog, means that you can be proactive in managing it. So if, for example, you notice that your brain fog is always worse Tuesday mornings, you can go back and look for causes. Maybe your favourite TV show is on late Monday night and you always stay up to watch it, getting less sleep as a result. Or perhaps you find that your brain fog is worse after you’ve put in long, stressful hours at work. By finding a pattern, you can then look for potential solutions – like streaming your TV show during the day, or managing your work stress better.
And if you can’t find a pattern, but know that, for example it’s worse mid-afternoon, you can plan around that. You can do tasks that require concentration and focus earlier in the day for when you’re at your sharpest.
Be kind to yourself. We can be really harsh on ourselves when we make a mistake or forget a name or can’t focus enough to finish a task properly. But this negativity can have significant impacts on our mental health, so be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
Brain fog hacks
Let’s face it – you can do all the right things to treat brain fog, but it can still strike. So here are some hacks and tips to help you get on with life.
Routine, routine, routine. Having a regular routine helps even the foggiest of minds get on with the day. Get up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time (this also helps with sleep quality). Have your meals at the same-ish time. Schedule time for exercise and relaxation. During your work days, stick to a schedule, even if you’re working from home. All of these things will help you get through your day more easily, with less “huh, what was I doing now?”
Make alarms and alerts your best friend. Whether it’s on your phone, computer, watch, or other device, set alarms to remind you to move, stop for lunch, take a break, meditate, go to bed. They’ll help you stay on track with your daily routine. They’ll also help you remember appointments, birthdays and other significant dates.
Use a pill dispenser. I can’t tell you how many times I used to wonder if I’d taken my meds in the morning. And rather than risk double-dosing, I wouldn’t take them. Which is not ideal because obviously there were days that I didn’t end up taking them. So get rid of this stress and just use a pill dispenser. They’re a lifesaver.
Take regular breaks. When you’re finding it hard to concentrate, give your brain a break. Forcing yourself to try to concentrate can be counter-productive. Instead, when you find you’re just not able to focus or finish a task, go for a quick walk, get some air, get a glass of water. Get away from what you’re doing and take a brief break. This will hopefully clear your head enough to continue.
Get away from distractions. If, like me, you’re working from home, consider where you’re set up. My desk was in front of a window but I found myself endlessly staring outside at nothing. So I moved my desk to face a wall. It’s not as picturesque, but when concentration is an issue, getting away from distractions really does help.
Get some fresh air. This is really helpful if you’ve been cooped up at home or in an office for hours. A dose of fresh air and sunshine can help blow some of the cobwebs out of the brain.
Do something else. Sometimes you just have to admit you can’t focus or concentrate enough on the task at hand, so put it away (if you can) and do something that requires less brain power. You can come back to the original task when you’re thinking more clearly, saving yourself lots of frustration and angst.
Call our Help Line
If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via Messenger.
More to explore
- 7 easy things to try if your brain fog is getting the better of you
- The best organization hacks to combat brain fog
- What is brain fog and what causes it?
- Concentrating on brain fog
- Why do some people with rheumatoid arthritis experience “brain fog”?
Arthritis Foundation (USA)