Do you ever have times when your brain feels hazy and it’s a real struggle to think clearly? Or even remember what you are meant to be working on?
You might experience brain fog due to high levels of stress, sleep loss, grieving or the hormonal changes that occur during menopause and pregnancy.
While brain fog isn’t a medical term, anyone who has experienced it, knows it’s ‘a thing.’ And it can be a problem when your professional role requires you to be mentally sharp.
So what can you do when your brain is sluggish and you have a job to hold down?
Neuropsychologist Dr Nicola Gates, author of A Brain for Life and The Feel Good Guide to Menopause, offers some suggestions.
- Do one thing at a time. This allows you to be present with what you are doing, and helps improve speed and accuracy.
- Whenever possible, finish the task you are working on, before moving on to the next.
- Minimise unwanted distractions. This means being strict with turning off notifications as well as training those around you about your availability. This might mean getting approval from your manager for some distraction-free thinking time each week. Or, if you are the manager, train your team to come to you at certain times of the day. Between 9 and 11 am, for example, or mid-afternoon.
- Take short breaks, ‘alfresco not aldesco’, especially if your work isn’t flowing or your thinking is stagnating. Pretend you are a smoker and go outside for a 10 minute break. Disengaging the brain allows it to make the connections it needs.
- Do your most challenging work at your peak time of day or time of week. For many people this is sometime during the morning. Mondays or Tuesdays are generally better than Fridays due to the restorative effect of the weekend.
- If you are having trouble remembering things, use memory tricks such as repeating back information, making up rhymes or acronyms, making associations between new and old information, or simply using a note pad to capture important information.
- If you can’t remember things instantly, relax, do something else for a while to give yourself time – it will come to you.
- Try not to stress about your productivity, as anxiety interferes with cognition. This is especially important for women going through menopause, who struggle with brain fog, and worry about their work performance. Research suggests women do remain productive because they work extra hard to make up for any down days. Retire the imposter syndrome, remembering you are experienced, capable and accomplished, even if you don’t feel that way all the time.
- Good nutrition, sufficient sleep and exercise all improve cognition, so check if there is room for improvement in these areas . Consult Nicola’s book Brain for Life for further information.
2 Bonus Tips for Saving Face when your Memory Falters
Someone asks you a question. You know you know the answer but just can’t access it in that moment.
Say: “Leave it with me,” or “I’m a bit busy right now, I’ll get back to you on that shortly.”
You have a conversation or meeting with a colleague and need help remembering the details.
Say: “I’m going to jot this down because this is really important.”
In the wrap up say: “ Thanks for that, before you leave I want to check back with you I’ve captured the most important points.”