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Neuroscientist and psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw has some advice for those suffering from brain fog and explains how it relates to memory and what we can do about it.
Many of us have been talking about brain fog of late, whether that is because of ageing, feeling burnout, recovering from illness or juggling too many balls in the air during this incredibly difficult last year. So what is brain fog and how does it relate to memory and what exactly can we do about it?
Brain fog can range from mild to severe and is associated with poor memory, not being able to focus clearly, not being able to retrieve information and a lack of clear thinking and can negatively affect all aspects of our lives. Brain fog can be most apparent when we struggle with our memory and our ability to acquire, store, maintain and reclaim information that we have previously experienced or learned.
A 2015 review discusses evidence that suggests stress, exposure to certain toxins and medical health problems causes inflammation of certain molecules in the brain which can contribute to brain fog. Even lack of sleep and nutritional deficiencies can add to the problem. So, what can we do to help ourselves?
How to clear brain fog and sharpen our thinking and memory
1) Make sleep your top priority. On average, a person goes through 3-5 REM (rapid eye movement) cycles per night which is when we dream and is vital for mental and emotional regulation. It is important to maintain a regular and healthy sleeping pattern in order to prevent or clear brain fog and to be at your sharpest and allow your brain to do all its sorting and coding.
2) Exercise to get the oxygen flowing. Exercising increases oxygen and blood flow, so incorporate 30 minutes of exercise into your daily routine to help clear out the cobwebs especially if you can get outside.
3) Don’t overload. Take time to properly focus on activities and avoid trying to do too many things at once. The misguided notion of multitasking has been linked to poorer episodic memory, along with a reduction in efficiency, performance and focus. Slow down and do one thing at a time.
4) Brain fog could be hormonal. Low levels of hormones, particularly oestrogen, have been linked to changes in memory and difficulties thinking or processing information. These disturbances most frequently occur during the menopause.
5) Check medications. Some over the counter medications can cause brain fog so check the label for side effects. Chemotherapy can prevent the production of oestrogen which may explain changes in memory otherwise known as ‘chemo brain’, which is another type of brain fog.
6) Consult a medical professional if you think depression, sleep disorders, anxiety or medication you are taking could be contributing to the brain fog.
7) Reduce stress. Most importantly if you are feeling overwhelmed, remember to be kind to yourself. Have downtime, work out what you need to feel better that can be realistically achieved and surround yourself with positive people.
*Dr Lynda Shaw is a neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist.