Forgetting everything? How to cope with brain fog
October 14, 2022
If you feel like you’re forgetting things or even going mad, it could be brain fog. Here are some tips about how to cope with brain fog during menopause, from Linda Gillham and Kathy Abernethy, clinical experts at Peppy.
- Memory lapses and ‘brain fog’ are common in menopause and perimenopause.
- Research shows that 60 per cent of middle-aged women report difficulty concentrating and other issues with processing thoughts.
- Following some simple self-care steps to manage your mind, your sleep and stress levels can help give you some clarity.
- Taking HRT, drinking water, and getting on top of your diet can also help lift the fog.
If you find yourself forgetting people’s names or having more than the occasional blank moment, hormonal changes may be to blame.
“Changes in oestrogen during the menopause contribute to what some women call brain fog,” explains Kathy.
Add to this the challenges of being a member of the ‘sandwich generation’ – managing the demands of troubled teenagers and elderly parents – as well as our increasingly hectic working lives. Is it any surprise that many women are left wondering if they’re losing their mind?
First remember, this will pass
“You may feel you are going mad, developing dementia, or that you can’t cope with everything like you used to,” says Linda.
But don’t worry, you’re not. It’s vital to remember that as Kathy says, this is transient. As hormones settle, so will the brain fog. And that HRT (hormone replacement therapy) can help you through this.
Help yourself with these expert tips:
Take memory short-cuts
Your brain needs exercise and attention in the same way your body does.
“Write things down, use electronic reminders on your phone or computer – these then become both visual and timely,” Kathy recommends.
Try bullet journalling, a method of personal organisation developed by New York based designer Ryder Carroll. It’s simple yet effective; keep everything in one journal, by numbering the pages, and creating an index so you can find everything.
Tech also makes keeping on top of overwhelm much easier. “Use tools such as Trello to manage your time at home and at work,” suggests Linda.
Brain fuel for menopause
“Food is vital for good brain functioning, and what you put into your body during this period will affect brain function,” suggests Linda.
Choose oily fish, green leafy vegetables, dark berries, walnuts, flax seeds and avocado – all of which are associated with brain health. It’s also important to drink plenty of water.
“Dehydration is common in menopause and can lead to an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol, which can make brain fog worse,” says Linda.
Silence your critical inner voice
“If you constantly beat yourself up with self-talk like, ‘I’m not good enough to do this job any more,’ or ‘I’m useless,’ find new ways to challenge your thoughts,” suggests Linda.
You can do that by noticing your critical self-talk and inwardly saying ‘Stop!’ – or you can try therapy to help.
“Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) teaches you to challenge negative thoughts and can help you quieten your internal critical voice,” says Linda. Believe it or not, CBT has been shown to change thinking patterns in as few as eight sessions.
Slow down with mindfulness
“When we are stressed, we go into a fight, flight or freeze response, and our brains become binary – ‘yes’ or ‘no’, ‘stay’ or ‘go’. But if every time you experience brain fog, you respond with a stressed state, you will be much more unable to think clearly,” says Linda.
Mindfulness can help you deal with that binary response. It’s a proven strategy for addressing symptoms of menopause, including brain fog.
“Practising mindfulness will reduce stress, improve memory and extend your attention span,” adds Linda.
Do exercise you love
Gentle exercise, like walking, dancing, or even gardening can help to clear your mind. “Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators,’” says Linda.
A study, conducted by Harvard Health, suggests that just two hours of moderate intensity exercise every week can improve your memory.
This isn’t the time to push it hard and add more stress to your life, above all else, make sure you enjoy being active and moving. You may want to change back to your usual product once it is back in stock. This is completely up to you; you may even find you prefer the new one.
Make sleep a priority
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you are not alone. According to research, 40 percent of menopausal women struggle with their sleep, compared with just 12 per cent in younger age groups.
“If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you can feel sluggish and become snappy at the people around you. This may also contribute to you forgetting things or struggle to remain focused,” says Linda.
Good sleep hygiene is increasingly important in our noisy, always-on world and for menopausal women, lack of sleep can make hot flashes worse, and increase stress levels.
Simple tricks include lighting candles in the evening, ensuring that your phone and blue light is out of the bedroom and ensuring the temperature is set to cool but not cold.
Sleep is a priority for all demographics and there’s now an array of products available from soothing oils and candles, meditation and sleep focussed music and weighted blankets.
Still worried? Ask for help
If you’re worried about brain fog and feel it has become unmanageable, speak to a health professional. If you have the Peppy app, you can also chat to an expert or organise a virtual consultation.