8 Tips For Improving Brain Fog
Brain fog is a relatively new concept used to describe changes in cognitive functioning. People experience brain fog after periods of high stress, illness, or changes in their bodies. Even though it is now recognized as a common symptom that most people will experience at some point in their lives, women going through hormonal changes like perimenopause and menopause are highly likely to suffer from brain fog for a long time. The menopause transition can last between 5-8 years (on average), so we have pulled together some of our best tips for helping you combat brain fog and thrive during these years.
We're pleased to partner with Perry a social network that connects like-minded warriors in the same stage of life. This community offers a safe space for women to unite and tap into knowledge and resources from menopause experts. This piece is contributed by Julia Walker RN, BSN, is a women’s health nurse, writer, and member of the Perry team.
First things first: What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is precisely like it sounds – it is a condition where you feel like you are trying to think through clouds. Brain fog symptoms include cognitive changes. For example, brain fog can cause you to have difficulty remembering things, concentrating, focusing, and poor mental clarity. Women describe brain fog as having a veil separating them from the outside world or trying to think through mud. Nearly 60% of women report brain fog during their menopausal years, so rest assured you are not alone if you are struggling to think clearly.
The cause of brain fog in menopause is likely due to hormonal shifts occurring in your body. When women enter their perimenopause years, their estrogen levels start to fluctuate erratically. These shifts occur because ovarian function begins to decline at a certain point in every woman’s life. The ovaries are responsible for producing estrogen, so women naturally have less estrogen in their bodies as they age. All organs depend on estrogen in some way. Thus, when estrogen levels decline, every system can be affected, including your brain and cognitive processes.
Tips For Reducing Brain Fog
Tip #1: Get some sleep
While you sleep, your body is quite busy repairing any damage and cleaning up toxins. Your brain also uses sleep to form and consolidate memories and also works to keep neurohormones in balance. Although perimenopause can make getting enough sleep more difficult, there are ways to prevent perimenopause symptoms from keeping you up at night.
- Turn down the thermostat at night to keep night sweats at bay. Also, consider getting sweat-wicking pajamas.
- Avoid spicy foods and larger meals before you sleep. Spicy foods can trigger hot flashes, and large meals before sleep can give you stomach discomfort such as bloating.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine intake, as both have a way of interfering with your natural circadian rhythm.
- Find ways to de-stress before bed, such as shutting off screens an hour before sleep, doing a relaxing activity like meditation, and journaling to unload your busy thoughts on paper.
Tip #2: Nourish your brain (and body)
Brain fog can be the result of a poor diet. Just like the rest of your body, your brain needs certain nutrients to function optimally. Sometimes, brain fog is due to nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, omega-3’s, and vitamin D. Try to limit processed foods and refined sugars and eat a diet rich in protein, vegetables, healthy fats, and fruit. To boost certain key nutrients through diet, incorporate the following foods in your diet:
- Vitamin B12 – Crab, tuna, salmon, beef, fortified cereal, fortified milk (including soy and cow’s milk), some cheeses, yogurt, and eggs (especially the egg yolk).
- Omega-3’s – mackerel, salmon, fish oil, oysters, anchovies, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and soybeans.
- Vitamin D – salons, sardines, cod liver oil, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified foods, including milk and cereals.
Tip #3: Exercise
Physical activity has many direct effects on your brain, including increasing blood flow to your brain, which provides more oxygen and glucose (fuel for your brain) than when you are sedentary. There are also indirect ways exercise improves your cognitive function by offering stress relief, improving your sleep and mood, and reducing anxiety. In addition, we know that regular exercise decreases inflammation, stimulates the release of cellular growth factors, and prevents chronic health conditions like diabetes. According to one study on brain fog, regular aerobic exercise was also found to improve memory and learning. Try to do regular aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping at least 3 times a week.
These exercises can include walking, swimming, playing tennis, rock climbing at a gym, and dancing.
Tip #4: Give your brain a workout
Sometimes, we get sucked into the normal routines of daily life and forget to stimulate our brains in a different mode other than autopilot. But seeking out tasks that are new and challenging can sharpen our focus and thinking. Try to challenge your brain every day by working on sudoku, crosswords, dabbling in a new creative craft like embroidery, or trying a new language on a language-learning app.
Tip #5: Decrease stress
We often tout our stress levels with pride, as it is a sign of success and productivity in many cultures. But high levels of stress are not healthy nor helpful. Cortisol is our primary stress hormone. It plays a vital role when we are in a life-threatening situation. However, it can be detrimental to our overall health when it is constantly elevated because of frequent stress. Cortisol can interfere with sleep, cause weight gain, worsen anxiety, and make you irritable. Try to decrease stress wherever you are able in your life.
Think about your habits, tasks, career, relationships, and obligations. Is there anything you can cut back on, get rid of, or improve upon to make your life less stressful? If you are struggling to identify stress triggers, ask people close to you what they see as a problem.
Replacing stressful habits and obligations with stress-relieving activities like meditation, yoga, creativity, time for your loved ones, and good old’ free time can make a huge difference in your quality of life.
Tip #6: Try Supplements
Nutritional deficiencies can cause or worsen brain fog. Supplements can be a great way of increasing certain dietary nutrients in your diet. Some supplements, in particular, may be particularly helpful in improving brain fog.
- Magnesium -This vital mineral is responsible for over 600 chemical reactions in our bodies. It may help reduce chronic inflammation, lower blood pressure, and ward off anxiety and depression. Some studies have even found that it improves pre-menstrual syndrome by balancing out hormones. We know that brain fog in perimenopausal women may is from fluctuating hormones, so this essential mineral may reduce several perimenopause symptoms, including brain fog.
- Melatonin – As an essential component of the sleep cycle, melatonin can help you get to sleep and stay asleep. This sleep hormone can be taken individually or combined with other ingredients, such as those found in menopause supplements and over-the-counter sleep aids.
- Menopause supplements – There are so many supplements marketed toward women in menopause, which can make it challenging to decides which one to try. Unless you have certain health conditions or take other medications, it is usually safe to try a menopause supplement. Many women find supplements help relieve their perimenopause symptoms, whereas others find their symptoms do not improve in the slightest.
Tip #7: Get creative
Many of us put our desire to create on the backburner when career and family obligations take precedence. Yet, being creative is an essential part of being human; creativity sparks innovation and generates happiness.
Being creative looks different for everyone, but if you are unsure where to begin, think about what you admire and wish you might create yourself. If you are worried that your brain fog may impact your ability to create, remember this: some of the greatest works of art are from individuals who were notoriously moody and unable to think clearly unless they were creating their crafts.
Tip #8: Socialize
When words are hard to come by, and you have difficulty expressing (or even forming) your thoughts, social settings can make you uncomfortable, so it is normal to wish to avoid socializing entirely. However, keeping up regular communication with personal acquaintances and strangers alike can help sharpen your mind.
Women can also feel low and even depressed in menopause due in part to fluctuating hormones. Spending time with close family and friends can also increase mood-boosting neurohormones, such as dopamine and serotonin.
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