Living with Chronic Pain
10 Tips for Dealing With Brain Fog
What is brain fog?
In addition to physical symptoms, individuals with chronic pain often experience mental and cognitive symptoms. Cognitive symptoms associated with chronic pain, such as short-term memory loss, difficulty processing information, confusion and trouble focusing, are commonly known in the pain community as “brain fog.” These symptoms can make work, school and other daily tasks a challenge.
An estimated 15 to 40 percent of individuals with chronic pain experience brain fog. Although the direct link between chronic pain and brain fog is unknown, studies have shown that chronic pain, such fibromyalgia-related pain, can negatively affect performance on tasks that require attention and memory. In addition to fibromyalgia, brain fog also frequently occurs with rheumatoid arthritis and complex regional pain syndrome.
Tips for dealing with brain fog
It is important to consult a physician when dealing with brain fog in order to rule out any underlying conditions and to address possible contributing factors, such as medication side effects. In addition to a medical consultation, some lifestyle changes and steps that can be taken at home to help combat brain fog include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Improve sleep quality
Chronic pain can negatively impact sleep, which can exacerbate the symptoms of brain fog. Good sleep hygiene supports quality sleep and may reduce symptoms of brain fog.
2. Reduce stress
Stress can worsen symptoms of brain fog. Stress-reducing practices, such as meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and journaling, can be beneficial.
3. Physical activity
Although exercise may not be possible for all individuals with chronic pain, studies show that exercise not only reduces physical pain, but it also improves cognitive function. Low-impact exercise, such as walking, yoga and tai chi, can also improve sleep, leading to further reduction of brain fog.
4. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a diet primarily focused on whole foods, such as vegetables, fruit, lean protein and nuts, can help individuals avoid weight-related health conditions that may make brain fog worse. Drinking plenty of water can also be beneficial.
5. Avoid caffeine
Although caffeine may provide a temporary boost, when the effects wear off, it leads to a drop in energy and mental clarity. It can also negatively impact sleep.
6. Use paper and pencil
Calendars, to-do lists, and notes can be helpful when struggling with memory loss. Using paper-and-pencil versions of these tools rather than using their electronic counterparts is often more helpful because of the sensory cues provided during the writing process.
7. Create routines
Pre-established, consistent routines can be helpful for accomplishing daily tasks while battling brain fog. Routines help ensure that important responsibilities are not forgotten. Using paper and pencil to schedule and record daily routines adds another layer of memory support.
8. Use timers
If losing track of time or forgetting important events is a concern, setting timers as auditory reminders can help. Using alarm clocks, cell-phone alarms or old-fashioned kitchen timers help to remind the brain to take action.
9. Remove clutter
It is often hard to concentrate in a space that is unorganized and overrun with clutter. Getting rid of clutter and organizing belongings can improve concentration and focus.
10. Avoid multitasking
Although multitasking seems like a good way to accomplish tasks in a short amount of time, it is impossible to fully concentrate on two different tasks at the same time, especially when brain fog is a factor. Focusing on one task at a time helps ensure proper attention and concentration are given to the task at hand.
By implementing these tools and practices, the symptoms of brain fog can be reduced, and its effect on daily life can be minimized.