Every so often a client will ask me, “What do you do when you just can’t get your brain to work?” This last week I’ve been plenty challenged by brain fog—that mired in mud feeling when my brain won’t click, a heavy curtain separates me from my intelligence, and staring at whatever is in front of me seems like the logical thing to do—and I’ve had to dig into my own strategies, as well as try some new ones I’ve found.
A bad case of brain fog can be paralyzing when you run a business, but there are strategies to bust through the fog so you can get back to work.
What causes brain fog
Brain fog isn’t just an ADHD challenge, and there are many things that can trigger it or make it worse, including:
- lack of sleep
- low blood sugar
- food allergies
- seasonal allergies
- substance abuse
and other stressors.
Things to do that can help right away
1. I get up and get moving
If you find yourself just sitting there staring at your computer screen . . . break out of it. Get up and get moving. If your work requires you to sit a lot, that’s just not good for your brain, or your overall health.
Stand up: Sometimes I just stand up and tell myself what to do out loud. I had to laugh when I read that Dr. Joan Vernikos, a former NASA physician and author, advocates standing up frequently on and off throughout the day. She says that the act of standing up is more effective than walking to counteract the ill effects of sitting. So, yay! I was on the right track with this one.
Change in activity: Changing your activity can really help. Even if you don’t sit a lot in your work, when you’re feeling foggy, change your activity. Do something different. I get out and walk my dogs, even if it’s only for ten minutes. ADHD coach Jacqui Sinfield says to do jumping jacks or run up and down the stairs. Great ideas for shaking it off.
Regular exercise: Exercise on a consistent basis can help, too. I try to do a really good hike or bike ride over the weekend, and supplement with smaller walks and rides throughout the week, and use hand weights. Some of my clients swear by a treadmill or brisk walk in the morning. The point is to get your blood moving.
Physical exercise increases endorphins and delivers more glucose and oxygen to the brain. Recent research shows that physical exercise may be the single most important thing you can do for your brain.
2. I use my timer
I use my timer a lot anyway, but it’s especially helpful when I have a bad case of brain fog. Here’s what I do: After I’ve gotten up and moving and I’m back at my desk, I’ll give myself a do-able task, and set my timer for 15 or 20 minutes. There’s something about knowing I’m being timed that makes my brain pay attention more—so it wakes up a bit. I don’t make the task too daunting, I want to make sure I’m successful. Getting through that successfully gives me a boost, so I find another task and do it again. Usually, I’m able to lengthen the time to an hour pretty soon, and I start accomplishing things.
3. I drink more water
The brain is approximately 85 percent water and brain function depends on water. Water gives the brain the electrical energy it needs for all brain functions, including thought and memory processes.
Water is also needed for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters. It is essential for delivering nutrients to the brain and for removing toxins. When the brain is fully hydrated, the exchange of nutrients and toxins will be more efficient, ensuring better concentration and mental alertness.
Studies have shown that if you are only 1 percent dehydrated, you will likely have a 5 percent decrease in cognitive function. If your brain drops 2 percent in body water, you may suffer from fuzzy short-term memory, experience problems with focusing, and have trouble with math computations. (Excuse me while I get a drink of water.)
I don’t know about you, but I forget to drink water during the day unless I leave and get in the car. For some reason that act triggers me to fill my water bottle, and I drink when I’m driving. But the rest of the time, at my desk—when there’s a sink and a fridge with cold water not ten feet away—hours and hours go by without me drinking a drop.
I had heard that water was good for the brain before, but it didn’t compute, really, until this last time my brain fog reared, and I was trying everything to punch my way out. So I filled my water bottle and set it on my desk. This way, I drank a lot more water, and I found I was refilling it often. (That also got me standing up more!)
4. I get my accountability buddies involved
I have accountability buddies who don’t even know they’re accountability buddies, but they act like that for me because they help me be productive. These are people I’m working on projects with, or vendors who are working for me, or anyone, really, who is involved in any way with any work I’m doing.
Here’s what I do: I’ll email or phone one of them about a specific detail of the project, and after discussing that, I’ll tell them I’ll have X to them by Y date. I call it forced accountability. They’re not really holding me accountable, it was me who initiated it, but who cares? I told this person I’d have X for them by Y date, and to me, that’s something I need to be accountable for. This act gets an “uh oh” response from my brain, who realizes it’s time to get moving—because we promised something. This works for me.
Things to do that help over time, but that you can start right away
5. I clean up my diet
Eating naturally really helps ADHD and brain fog, in my opinion. And in the opinion of many of the experts as well. Eating real food—and that means not eating food that comes in a box or a package—is essential.
Many people have allergies to some foods that can cause brain fog. The most common food allergies are to soy, diary, and gluten.
Food elements that have been shown to cause brain fog are:
- Gluten (wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats),
- Casein (all dairy products),
- Yeast (in gluten-free breads),
- Food additives like carrageenan (in rice milk, almond milk, etc.)
Good brain foods
- berries, especially blueberries
- red grapes
- citrus fruit
- green leafy vegetables (good source of amino acid l-tyrosine, needed to form neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, necessary for alertness, drive, and motivation) We need this!
6. I clean up my sleep habits
I know, you’re a night owl. Me too. I love to stay up late and, in the words of one of my clients, “hold on to the day.” Many of us think we do our best thinking as the day gets later and later.
But I’ve come to realize that since I run a business and work with clients during the day, I can’t afford to stay up till the wee hours—it just doesn’t work for me. I’ve worked hard at getting my sleep to a more “normal” routine, and when I go off of it, I get foggy.
Sleeping a full eight hours, going to bed before 11 pm, and getting up at the same time every day really helps my brain function better.
Your brain needs sleep. Lack of quality sleep will mess with your memory, creativity, judgment, and focus. And it’s terrible for brain fog.
Go to bed at a decent hour. Get up at the same time every day. Get eight hours. There are lots of places to get advice on how to do this, including ADHD coach Jacqueline Sinfield’s Untapped Brilliance website.
7. I get my allergies under control
I didn’t know I had allergies as bad as I do until I moved to Southern California. My allergies really get provoked here, and allergy meds are a must if I want to be clear headed. I don’t get a lot of other symptoms, either, like a runny nose or teary eyes. It’s mostly head congestion (a lot like brain fog) and fatigue. Treating my allergies helps my brain fog a lot.
8. I meditate and read my favorite “Zen” books
Prolonged stress leads to anxiety, depression, poor decision making, insomnia, and memory loss. I read that stress can literally cause your brain to shrink, and that’s as harmful as it sounds.
Meditation is helpful in reducing stress because it gives the brain a break and distracts it from focusing on the stressful stimuli. The US Marines use meditation to help troops deal with stressful situations they face on the job. More and more corporate executives are using meditation to deal with stress and maximize brain power.
Regular meditation is said to help improve concentration, focus, creativity, and sleep.
I also like to read my favorite “zen” or calming books before sleeping, nothing exciting or too interesting to get me riled up. If you have favorite spiritual books, these would be good, too.
So that’s my list
So that’s my current list of brain fog strategies. I keep reminding myself to keep trying them because none of them are miracle cures, and you’ll need to keep trying them, too. Please leave a comment and let me know what works for you!