There’s nothing worse than looking forward to having a productive day before realizing you might as well have the mental clarity and attention span of a gnat.
“Brain fog” is the non-medical slang term people tend to use to describe this feeling of clouded consciousness.
Side effects include the inability to focus, increased proneness to distraction, detachment from reality, forgetfulness, frustration, procrastination, low energy, lethargy, and even depression.
Another way I like to describe it is I’m stuck in mental limbo — too drowsy to do anything productive, but not drowsy enough to need rest.
And so I just sit there like a lump doing nothing more than what’s required the absolute lowest level of consciousness.
Nope, no output of actual work.
Yup, browsing stupid crap on the internet.
For creative people, or for people with super crazy busy schedules, brain fog is the absolute worst.
It cripples your alertness and ability to focus, leaving you in bad shape for making important decisions, generating ideas, and getting shit done.
Despite its debilitating tendencies, it’s a pretty common condition that almost everyone experiences at least a few times in their lives, and unless you have serious problems with your sleep, eating, stress, or bodily toxins, then you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Still, it’s an annoying, time-wasting mind melt that’s beyond frustrating when you have to deal with it during the most inconvenient part of your day, and waiting it out can take hours (or even all day).
When I Googled how to cure my own brain fog, all I could find was advice on fixing major lifestyle habits like cleaning up your diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, detoxifying, and managing stress better.
Thanks for nothing, internet — I do a pretty good job at all of those things already!
I’m not saying it isn’t great advice, and I’m quite aware that my brain fog can sometimes be attributed to a blood sugar spike or a bad night’s sleep, but usually, it isn’t.
In my case, I figured out that the worst brain fog I suffer from almost always occurs right at the two times during my monthly cycle when estrogen and progesterone plummet to their lowest levels.
In my experience, it can last for just a couple of hours to as long as three days.
If you’re a female reading this, I’d encourage you to make a note of when you suffer from brain fog and what day of your cycle you’re on when you feel it.
If you’re a guy, well then, sorry.
Whoever you are, you can still benefit from the things I’ll share about curing brain fog as fast as possible.
Hormonal dips are something I can’t do much about other than follow the obvious eat well/sleep well/live well advice, so instead, I have to resort to a few different tactics to boost my brain.
Spend anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes practicing these tips, and you should see at least some of that fog start to clear its way out of your head.
Although I can’t guarantee that these tactics will work 100% of the time (since they don’t always work for me), they’re certainly worth trying if they do end up saving you from your time-wasting, zombie-like state.
Here’s what I’ve got.
Fresh air + sunlight.
This is really my go-to remedy for getting my mind back into focus.
It’s as simple as cracking a window or stepping outside and taking a few minutes to breathe in and out very deeply.
The breathing part is very important, because it gets more oxygen into the body and more carbon dioxide out of the body.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious in addition to suffering from brain fog, then this will surely help.
The trick is to slowly breathe in through your nose for about four seconds, hold it for about a second, and then slowly breathe out through your mouth for about six seconds.
Seriously, even after just a minute of using this breathing technique in fresh air, my state of consciousness gets a significant lift.
Research has shown that regular, controlled breathing exercises actually increases your brain’s size, which improves attention, interoception (sensitivity to feeling your body), and sensory processing.
If you can go for a walk, that’s even better, because it gets your blood pumping a bit — another great benefit for your brain.
Another perk to stepping outside for a few minutes has to do with exposing your eyes and skin to the natural light, even if it’s the dead of winter and overcast.
This is especially helpful if you feel sleepy, but can’t afford to go for a nap.
When you’re eyes sense light, they’ll instantly send the signal to your brain that it’s daytime and you need to be awake. (That’s why you have such a hard time sleeping at night after spending too much time staring at glowing screens so close to bedtime.)
If you’re vitamin D deficient, then that could also very well explain your brain fog.
It’s more common than you think — especially in the winter.
You can ask your doctor to do a blood test, and then he or she may recommend a vitamin D supplement.
I take a supplement daily due to being fair-skinned and the fact that I burn in about 20 minutes, so exposing my unprotected skin to the sun for very long isn’t the most ideal way to get a proper dosage of natural vitamin D.
Regardless of how easily you burn and how much sunscreen you really ned to slap on yourself, just letting your eyes and face soak up some of the natural light for a brief minute is enough to clear some of that fog, I’ve found.
It’s also just nice to get out if you’ve been stuck inside for while.
Hashtag, freelancer problems.
Coffee + napping.
When you need to stay awake, an obvious solution is of course coffee (or any beverage loaded with caffeine).
When you simply can’t stay awake, can’t afford to pass out for eight hours either, a power nap is often useful to help recharge yourself at least a little.
What does this have to do with brain fog, you might ask?
And why the hell would you want to put the two together when one keeps you awake and the other puts you to sleep?
Allow me to explain.
It turns out that if you drink a cup of coffee immediately before going down for no more than a 20-minute power nap, you can actually supercharge your alertness.
It’s really all about the timing here.
Everyone knows that caffeine is bad news for sleep, but since it takes about 20 minutes to affect your brain, you have a small window there to nap.
But why would you want to nap?
A brief nap (meaning short enough that you don’t enter a deep state of sleep) naturally clears out adenosine — a byproduct of brain activity, which can make you feel tired and foggy.
By the time that 20-minute power nap is up, the effects of the caffeine start to hit you, and will work even better than if you hadn’t napped because there’s less adenosine to deal with.
Scientific experiments have even shown that coffee naps are better combined this way as opposed to using them separately.
Give it a try!
Grab a cup of joe, drink it quick, set an alarm on your smartphone for 20 minutes, find a comfortable spot or position, and let the magic just happen.
Yoga (or stretching) + meditation.
Alright — so if breathing fresh air, exposing yourself to the sun, or taking a nice little coffee nap doesn’t work, then you may have to start working both your mind and body a little harder to get the job done.
While going for a walk or a run or a heavy lifting session at the gym are all great ideas, I’d suggest another form of physical activity to try instead.
It’s time to get your yoga on.
One study found that a short, 20-minute session of hatha yoga improved people’s focus and their ability to retain information.
Now, I’m aware that this is just ONE study and not everyone is going to get the same results — especially if you have no experience with yoga and you work somewhere that doesn’t really make it convenient for you to get down on the floor in downward dog.
Starting yoga with no prior experience is difficult and painful — believe me, I know.
I’ve been doing it on and off for five years, and I can tell you that’s been worth it.
The better you get at it, the more enjoyable it becomes.
Not only does it get your blood pumping all over your body, it also forces you to practice controlled breathing (similarly to what I explained earlier on this article) and can put you in a calm, meditative state when you’re flexible enough to flow through the moves quite easily and intuitively.
Not ready for standing still in weird poses?
Stuck in a cramped cubicle?
Start out with doing some basic stretching instead, and breathing properly as you do it.
If you’re lost, do a search on YouTube to get an idea of what to do.
Alternatively, you can stay seated in your chair, put on a pair of headphones, and try meditation.
Meditation has been scientifically proven to benefit the brain in all sorts of ways, including the areas responsible for concentration and attention.
I plan to write more posts about meditation in the future, because it’s literally one of the best things you can do to keep your brain healthy.
Not only does it improve your level of focus and alertness, it also helps with depression, anxiety, distraction, emotional control, creative expression and the brain’s aging process.
If you’re not at all familiar, the basic idea around meditation is to quiet your mind and reduce your thoughts to nothingness.
That’s really all it is — it’s not religious or mystical at all, contrary to popular belief.
So if you have brain fog, taming your thoughts shouldn’t be painfully difficult.
If you’ve never considered meditating before and are freaked out about starting, check out this post about the app I used to get started for myself.
BONUS: Chocolate + your favourite music.
Last but not least, here’s an extra little tip to give your brain a little kick, at least to feel good anyway.
Both chocolate and music have hormonal mood-boosting effects on the brain, and sometimes that can be enough to to shake you out of your foggy funk.
Just beware that they can also have the opposite effect.
Or no effect all.
Trust me — it’s beyond easy to let yourself get so distracted by your favourite artist’s songs or a huge pile of chocolate, and I can definitely admit to getting carried away with singing my head off or overindulging on chocolate rather than working.
I’ve also experienced instances where chocolate does nothing but make me bloated, and music just pisses me right off.
What you’ll find about the methods I shared in this article for curing brain fog is that some of them will work sometimes, and other times they won’t.
There are times when my brain fog is just so stubborn, I have to just wait it out and let it pass.
And that’s the way it goes sometimes.
So if you go ahead and try a bunch of stuff I just talked about here, don’t be too unpleasantly surprised if all it did was make you feel more wired, groggy, or distracted.
I don’t know your brain, nor do I have any background information on your health.
Heck, I barely understand what’s going on with myself most times, and I have to use all these health tracker apps to monitor what I’m eating, how much I’m sleeping, how much I’m exercising, and where I am in my cycle just to get a vague idea of what the frig is going on with me.
I still hope this information really helps you, though.
Anything that has helped me at least once before and has scientific information to back it up is worth sharing, in my opinion.
And even if it doesn’t help, these are all super healthy tips, so you’ll be helping your entire body out anyway.
In fact, you really should be actively engaging in all or most of the things listed in this post, even when you’re not suffering from brain fog.
If there’s any piece of real advice I want you to take from this, it’s that doing the things you need to do in order to maintain a healthy brain is totally worth it, not just in the short-term to clear common but annoying conditions like brain fog, but for long-term health and wellness purposes too.
When you’re 97 years old and everyone else your age can’t even remember where they are or what they’re doing, you’ll still be kicking butt and getting shit done, because you’ll have built up the mental power and stamina that can only come from a well-kept brain and body.
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- 7 eye-opening ways to forget about your goals so you can let happiness flow - June 20, 2016
- Why you won’t do all the things you want to do this summer - June 13, 2016
- 50 everyday things you can give up to make time for more important stuff - April 30, 2016
- How to go from waking up miserable to exhilarated every morning - April 18, 2016
- How to align your mind to get exactly what you want - April 3, 2016
- Why we’re so bad at sticking to good habits (and what to do about it) - March 19, 2016
- 6 useful tips for dealing with an all-around bad day - June 30, 2015