There was a meme going around a while ago that said “my brain has too many tabs open,” and I really related to it. Anyone else remember that? It was so accurate though… that feeling like there is just too much going on, and when there’s too much happening I find myself unable to focus on anything.
I’ve been like this for ages… embarrassing fact: I was actually voted Space Cadet (and also Worst Driver) of my graduating high school class. I have always been a little bit spacey and forgetful but over the past year I’ve noticed that it’s gotten worse than usual. I wrote about my panic over the candles I thought I left burning, but things like that keep happening.
You know, you make a to-do list and then step into the other room (or open up a new browser window) only to completely forget what you’re doing. I’d be explaining a story to a friend only to become distracted and need to start over. It’s really annoying but it’s also why I started researching brain fog for today’s post – I’ve learned a lot and thought it would be helpful to share here! I’m of course not a doctor or health expert but I’ve found that making certain changes to my lifestyle and daily routine have really helped me regain my focus/mental clarity and also be more present.
What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is literally when your brain feels foggy or cloudy. It isn’t a medical condition or anything (though it can be a symptom of something more serious so go see a doctor if it persists); but it’s when you are feeling particularly disorganized and/or forgetful. If you are suffering from brain fog you might not feel as clearheaded as usual and your ability to focus can feel off.
Causes of Brain Fog
There are a lot of things that can be causing your brain fog. The biggest ones are stress, diet, dehydration and not getting the right amount of sleep (getting too much sleep is actually just as bad!!!). Also see more causes of brain fog here. Sadly brain fog is a side effect of living such a fast-paced lifestyle… common for those of us with demanding jobs or high-stress city lifestyles. We are overstimulated and constantly distracted… it’s no wonder we can’t think properly!
How to Get Rid of Brain Fog.
The best way to cure brain fog is by minimizing stress and living a healthy lifestyle. Getting the right amount of sleep, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and so on and so forth.
Avoid artificial sweeteners
I’m listing this first because it’s an easy thing to cut out and artificial sweeteners are so terrible for you! Luckily this is something I already do but I was shocked in that so many articles I read mentioned aspartame as a leading cause of brain fog. I found this really interesting. Artificial sweeteners (yes even Splenda) are awful for you for so many reasons but I didn’t realize how bad they are for your focus. It’s particularly funny to think that so many people drink coffee to focus but then add artificial sweetener to their coffee. I drink my coffee black but if I really need a little something sweet I will add a tiny bit of organic Stevia.
When you’re stressed, your brain is exhausted. The biggest realization I had was that I was constantly multi-tasking and trying to do too many things at once. It’s really important to give your mind a break and do things (everyone is different but for me I love yoga and meditation) that give it a chance to recharge. I find that after an hour of yoga my mind is recharged and I have a much easier time focusing. Many people don’t realize that if they’re stressed, they should give their brain a little break. Get up from your desk and go for a 5 minute walk, drink some water… get a change of scenery.
Also falling under the stress category… alcohol and caffeine. Managing your consumption both of these two things helps. It’s worth mentioning that when I took a month off from drinking besides sleeping better and losing weight I felt a LOT more focused (and less stressed) than usual.
Besides all of the other great benefits, exercise is a great way to relieve stress and improve brain function. This is purely anecdotal but I find that taking a particularly challenging yoga class really helps me. Oftentimes the poses are so hard that I have to totally shut my brain off and not think. Which is something I have a hard time doing. I shift my focus to my breath and give my brain a break.
Meditating can feel really hard when I’m feeling unfocused but when done properly it is so restorative as you give your brain a break from everything else you are thinking about. I have to really actively force myself to stop thinking and making lists but when I do that, even just after ten minutes I feel so much more focused. Taking a time out from technology is also helpful.
How many hours of sleep are you getting? On days where I feel by best I’ve gotten a solid, uninterupted 7-9 hours of sleep. The funny thing is that I learned too much sleep is just as bad as not getting enough sleep. (This is devastating, ha ha!) Over the holidays I was doing this thing where I would play catch-up… sleeping 10 or 11 hours on weekends… I noticed that I actually felt much worse from doing that. It’s important to consistently sleep 7-9 hours, every night… ideally the same hours. I try to sleep from 11pm-7am every night. On weekends this might change to 12am-9am but I try to be as consistent as possible. Sleep is so important… besides brain fog a lack of sleep can also cause mood swings, weight gain, a weakened immune system, and other health problems.
Supplements for Fighting Brain Fog
Try taking a B-12 supplement if you are deficient. B-12 supports healthy brain function. I have been taking it for about two weeks and feel less foggy but I have been doing a lot of things to improve mental clarity so I’m not sure if this is the thing is that’s helping. Omega-3’s are also great. I take two of this EPA/DHA supplement every day. There are so many supplements out there and it’s confusing/hard to know what really works – I always trust MBG and this is a great article with doctor approved supplements to try.
Essential oils are one of the best natural remedies. I’m a really big fan of this rollerball from Aromatherapy Associates. It’s very minty (peppermint, eucalyptus, + pine) and meant to help ease breathing and clear your mind. I find this to be really relaxing but it also helps me to focus. I’ll apply it to the insides of my wrists, behind my ears, and to my temples. Becca (from the podcast) loves this treatment from Origins which has very similar benefits.
Cure Brain Fog With Diet
Your diet is so important. If you have food allergies/sensitivities, you may feel foggy after eating them. The food you eat can cause you to experience brain fog, but diet can also help you feel more clear minded. Besides artificial sweeteners (AVOID!) dairy, peanuts, gluten, and MSG are all possible culprits. I am fairly certain I have a pretty big dairy sensitivity but I still eat cheese from time to time. When I cut it out I always feel much better. Going gluten free or dairy free is really hard but can make a big difference. (Talk to a doctor or nutritionist before making any big diet changes though!
Besides that, try increasing your intake of protein, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats. Cut out processed foods and stick to a relatively low carb diet. Also… hydrate! I aim to fill up my big mason jar of water 4 times a day while I’m working. Then carry a water bottle everywhere.
I feel like my brain is in permanent brain fog! One thing I know for sure is that exercise really helps. I used to run every day and my mind was in a much better place then. I’ve got to pick up the habit again. 🙂
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
Exercise is such a great cure for it. Yes! You got this!
it definitely helps! good luck! x
I didn’t know artificial sweeteners cause brain fog, that’s really interesting. Just another reason to avoid toxins in our food…
Thank you for the advice, I’ll drink lots of water today! xAllie
Right! So bad for you!!!
I always start my day with brain fog. I would recommend chugging as much water (more than you would think, like at least 3 cups) while getting ready every day. We forgot how dehydrated we get at night! Also a quick 10-20 meditation if you can always helps me to reset and focus.
Great tips, thank you so much Elena!!
Super interesting post — I have definitely been feeling this way lately and find that exercise really makes such a difference, too!
It makes SUCH a big difference!
I’m gluten intolerant and one of my worst symptoms when I eat gluten is brain fog!! If you have stomach problems + super bad brain fog might want to look into gluten! Changed my life, I can focus for the first time – I would have done so much better in school if I would have known sooner!
I am definitely intolerant – I feel so much better when I don’t eat it!
This is all great advice. Usually for me brain fog is sleep related, not enough. I keep trying though. As you get older hormones play a big part. I’m exercising a lot more and that really helps. I love MBG too and get their news letter. Pod cast # 58 with Dana James is really enlightening. She talks about why gluten has become a problem in modern times and only bread she will eat and why. I hate artificial sweeteners anyway. My sister told me years ago that they disrupt sleep. All the current evidence says they contribute to weight gain and health problems more that sugar. I just do my best to avoid chemicals and processed food as much as possible. Thanks for the great list Grace!
Thank you so much for the suggestion Cy! I am going to check that out.
I recently went gluten and dairy free, and now most if not all of my carbs are from fruits and veggies. I also eat quite a bit of protein. Holy cow has it made a difference in my brain fog! And bloating.
That’s so good to know – thanks for letting me know!
I totally get your (sad) point about too much sleep actually being equally harmful as too little sleep. I currently work as a part-time bartender so I get to bed late and try to catch up on the energy with excessive sleeping but it actually makes me feel more tired.
I generally have a problem of focus and thinking about too many things at the same time. Between finding a new job and filling applications, I research freelance opportunities and blogs and also try to focus on my creativity and paint. There are always a million things I think about and then I end up not focusing fully on either of them. Those are helpful tips – exercising really helps me as well as a healthy diet full of protein and healthy fats.
Thank you for the tips and I hope you find your focus soon!
Yes to all of this!!! Thanks Anna xx
This is a great post. I definitely have suffered from brain fog (it’s a common symptom with both celiac and hashimoto’s), and all your recommendations are spot-on. A couple of months ago I started using a sleep app called AutoSleep that syncs with my Apple Watch – I’ve always joked that sleeping is my superpower, but this also tracks restful and deep sleep. It’s been fascinating to realize that on the days when my deep sleep is less (regardless of how much sleep I get overall), that’s when I have brain fog. Too much alcohol, sugar, or caffeine before bed definitely prevents deep sleep. I also got glutened by mistake one day – usually when that happens (thankfully it’s rare because I’m so careful) I feel like a have a hangover for about ten days. And sure enough, for the next ten days my deep sleep was way less than normal. There may well be other things going on in my body, but it’s been fascinating to see how not just the amount of sleep I get, but the amount of deep sleep, is directly linked to how clear or fuzzy-headed I feel.
thank you so much for sharing Marcia! it’s crazy how such seemingly small things can make such a big difference.
OMG I have Splenda every day. I need to get organic Stevia!
Also, I totally remember that meme, and I think these tips are AMAZING! And I feel TERRIBLE when I sleep more than 7-8 hours. Great post!
The Champagne Edit
Oh yes get rid of it!! Funny story for you – a year or two ago, I was in Montauk w/Julia from Lemon Stripes and Jess Kirby and put splenda in my coffee and the two of them flipped out at me. I stopped using it after that week!
Sage advice but when you work for someone like the post office you can’t get out of the office.
No such thing as break, your lucky to get a lunch so to keep what sanity I have left I’ll quit reading this now.
Could I respectfully say that I know you mean well, but using a phrase that does describe a medical symptom of a number of debilitating illnesses, you may give the impression that an illness can be cured by some simple lifestyle changes. A number of illnesses like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and similar get really mixed reactions including from doctors and sufferers are often told that simple changes such as exercise and diet, can ‘cure’ them, when this is not the case. Your post might unknowingly feed into that myth. Would you please consider expanding your point about what you are describing as being different from a medical condition, or perhaps add a disclaimer at the top of the post?