Mention brain fog to your doctor and you’re likely to be met with a dismissive tone and told that it isn’t a real condition. But if you describe brain fog to your friends, they’ll know exactly what you mean: fuzzy thinking, trouble concentrating, trying to find the right word, feeling like your brain has somehow slowed down.
Today I discuss the common symptoms of brain fog in midlife and how to get rid of the fogginess simply by changing your habits in just a few areas of your life.
Hello, I am neuroscientist, Dr Ben Webb - sharing brain advice for a mentally healthy and happy midlife.
Wellcome to Episode 68 of Better Brain, Better You
Hey! How are you doing? Hope you’re having great week.
Thanks so much for tuning into today’s episode on how to beat brain fog in midlife.
Your brain is the most important part of your body. It controls and coordinates everything that you do: your actions and reactions, how you to think and feel, your memories and learning—all the things that make you you.
There are some neuroscience-backed steps you can take to keep your brain healthy. I’ve put them together for you in a guide that gives you the six steps you can take now to create and maintain a healthy brain. You can download it for free and keep forever at:
Each of these steps use the latest neuroscience and lifestyle medicine research to enhance your brain health. It’s my gift to you so please do go and grab it now to start taking taking care of your brain in midlife and beyond.
Complain of brain fog to a doctor and you’re likely to be met with a dismissive tone and told that it isn’t a real condition. But if you mention brain fog to your friends, they’ll know exactly what you mean: fuzzy thinking, trouble concentrating, a sense of grasping for the right word, feeling like your brain has somehow slowed down. In truth, brain fog is not a medical diagnosis, but a sign that things aren’t right in your body.
There are multiple causes of brain fog, from homronal changes, medications, ill health and, of course, the restrictions and repercussions we’ve all experienced as a result of the pandemic. Mostly, though, it occurs as a result of our failure to look after our brains with good quality sleep, the right nutrition, mental as well as physical exercise and stress management.
The most common brain fog symptoms are loss of mental clarity, inability to focus or concentrate, problems with learning and remembering, slow thinking, issues with language or word-finding and clumsiness. Depending on which area of brain function is affected, you can also experience brain fatigue, exhaustion or irritability.
Symptoms of brain fog can come and go but when they occur regularly, they can interfere with the quality of your life, your relationships and your work and, crucially, can railroad your normal capabilities.
It’s important to talk first to your GP or physician to rule out any underlying physical or mental health issues. Instead of saying ‘I have brain fog’, you could try and be more specific about your circumstances. So, for example, say: ‘I’m having problems trying to find he right words and my brain function but my memory is fine.’ This helps to isolate symptoms for your doctor.
So how to do you get rid of brain fog. Changing your habits in just four areas of your life can boost brain health and dispel brain fog: sleep, stress, nutrition and exercise, including mental fitness.
To create new healthy patterns, it helps to understand how habits are formed. A trigger and reward combine to form a habit. First, there is the trigger, which can be almost anything, such as a time of day, a person, a place, a mood or smell. The action or reward may be eating, drinking, exercising, going outside, checking your social media. This sequence a trigger and reward becomes routine over time. The trigger and the reward combine and a sense of anticipation emerges, cravings develop and a habit is generated. Once embedded in your brain, habits can be reactivated at any time, especially during periods of stress.
The good news is that it’s relatively simple to cultivate a new craving for a healthier habit. For example, if you want to work on going to bed at a regular time, you pick, say, 10 pm as your trigger. Reinforce this by setting an alarm on your phone. Your reward each night is then to apply your favourite body lotion before getting into bed. You can cultivate a craving for the smell and sensation of that body lotion by thinking about it throughout the day. By anticipating the reward, you can develop a craving to drive the habit loop of going to bed at 10pm.
Try and work through each of the following four areas of your life and see what habits can be replaced by brain-friendly strategies in the next 30 days…
First, try and be less stressed. Even when you feel chronically stressed, you have a lot more control than you might imagine. First, what you think really matters. Negative thoughts prompt your body to respond as if you are under threat.
Be realistic about what you can achieve. Recognise when good enough is better than perfect. Also, be reasonable about what those around you, such as work colleagues, friends and family, can achieve.
Being present and focused on what you are doing is a natural antidote to stress-induced absentmindedness.
Smiling and laughter are natural stress-busters. Try smiling when you wake up, look in the mirror, put the kettle on and when you greet someone. Smiling, laughing and having fun are simply choices we make. If we actively make those choices every day, they will become habits.
Second, try to sleep sleep better. If your nights are disrupted by diffculty falling sleep or waking in the middle of night, these steps are proven to help better sleep:
Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night, wak cup at the same time every morning, regardless of whether it’s a week day, weekend or holiday. Never hit the snooze button – get up as soon as you wake up.
Get natural daylight as soon as possible after you wake and throughout the day.
Exercise earlier in the day to promote tiredness late run the day. .
Start to dim artificial light from about 8pm to initiate sleep.
Keep your evenings calm, as you approach bedtime.
Sleep in the dark and avoid the blue light on phones, tablets and computers. Charge them outside of your bedroom.
Third, eat the right foods to nourish your brain your brain. What you eat directly affects the way in which your brain functions.
Adopt a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in nutrients and minerals, and gradually remove unhealthy, processed foods from your freezer, fridge and cupboards.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain performance and memory, and can reduce inflammation. Food sources are fatty fish, nuts and seeds and some plant oils such as flaxseeds
Iron and Vitamin B12 are essential for healthy brain function. If you think you may be deficient speak to your doctor about getting tested.
Keep your brain hydrated. Divide your weight in pounds by two and aim for that many fluid ounces of water each day.
Maintain a healthy weight, as obesity and high BMI are associated with mental decline
Ans finally exercise to look after your brain health
While research shows that aerobic exercise and resistant training are both important to boost brain health, mental exercise is vital, too.
Challenging your brain with new experiences and activities to learn new things and promote neuroplasticity. Learning is like a powerful, brain-changing drug that generates brain cells, enriches brain networks and opens new routes that the bypass dormant and damaged parts of the brain.
As well as specific exercise sessions in all forms, look for opportunities to incorporate more movement into your daily routine, and break up long spells of sitting with standing or moving for a couple of minutes.
It’s important remember that brain fog can also be a prominent feature of conditions such as ME and long covid.
For anyone who has been struggling with the smallest tasks for long periods as a result of these conditions, solving all their problems with lifestyle changes isn’t realistic in the short term. However, even in situations such as these, some of the small changes can make a positive difference.
There you have it: the most common brain fog symptoms are loss of mental clarity, inability to focus or concentrate, problems with learning and remembering, slow thinking, issues with language or word-finding and clumsiness. And changing your habits in just four areas of your life - sleep, stress, nutrition and exercise, including mental fitness - can boost brain health and get rid of brain fog forever.
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Thanks for tuning into the end of this episode on beating brain fog in midlife. I see you. You are clearly committed to creating and maintaining a healthy brain. So I applaud you. Keep up the good work. Take good care of yourself, stay safe and healthy, and I will look forward to seeing you next time.