One of the most challenging things about life with chronic illness is brain fog. You have zero focus and motivation. You find yourself reading the same sentence over and over again but still can’t make sense of it or retain the information.
Brain fog also creates lots of anxiety because it becomes so easy to forget important things, miss deadlines, make mistakes and not be able to keep up with the tasks you need to complete at work.
Which leads to lots of self doubt, second guessing yourself and feeling guilty that you are letting your team mates or company down.
So I asked my Facebook and Instagram community to share their top tips on how to work with brain fog to create this collaborative blog and there is some great wisdom shared here.
Top tips for working with brain fog.
Making a list of what absolutely needs to be done. Be really strict with focusing on one task at a time. Always write it down, do not ever assume you will remember later. Brain fog means you will not remember!
Try to do less brain intensive tasks like filing on these days. Take short breaks as often as possible. Sitting staring at a screen will not make the fog clearer but a small break or a walk might just help you through the day. Not multitasking if possible, write notes to stay organised, make lists and check off items as I go. I also try to drink extra water because I feel like sometimes it flushes it out more
I have two different notepads going (open spiral notebook). The right side is bullet points of things to do. Left side is for jotting notes. So someone calls (I work at a bank so calls and people interruptions are expected) and “hello this is John smith (writing John smith), I was hoping…”(writing key words the entire time).
If I can help right then it gets a single cross through when it’s done so I know what notes are relevant, if it needs to be added to the to do list it gets a bullet point on the right page. If I run out of room on the left I start on giant sticky notes. If someone mentions something to me in the copy room or anywhere else I always answer with “can you jot that on a sticky and bring it to me?” And it goes on the left page. Everyone at work is so great at my sticky note tricks.
This system works great because I have date stamps for everything. If “order ms jones checks” is crossed off on 2/20 than I ordered them that day.
If you have a question about something we spoke about on the 2nd of December I can see my conversation notes for that day. (I can make a few days as an example if it would help!)
Also in this notebook is a tab for personal, and a tab for calendar. So if I get a personal call I quickly open the page and jot down the date and make notes on what we’re speaking about -you know, Doctor, insurance, etc.
The calendar is colour coded so I know what time of day I should be looking at for making plans and it gets checked every few hours so I can plan appropriately.
Basically assume you can remember nothing and write down everything and have a solid sorting system for it. When I was working in a restaurant I would find it easier to remember I needed four things on this trip to the kitchen. Instead of trying to remember who needs what and what they are I just tally up and don’t leave the kitchen/bar/etc until I have enough things.
It works most of the time unless I’m getting wrong things- like my list of three items did not include a soda for table 23, he needs it anyway but that means table 17 did not get their ranch this trip. I also wrote down everything for there too, i didn’t assume I could remember what dressing you wanted.
I have routines that I keep even when I’m clear – keys always go on the hook by the door, my purse always goes on the same chair, I keep a colour-coded planner with me at all times where I keep my calendar, to-do and notes through the day. This way, even when the brain fog hits I have important things organised I don’t have to start from scratch.
Have a checklist ready for common tasks so when you have brain fog, you can tick off the tasks as you go instead of trying to hold all the info in your brain.
Stay hydrated. Get out in the fresh air. Have a tidy workspace (cluttered space makes my brain fog worse.) Write down everything that’s currently stuck in your brain to help ‘clear the air’ a bit. Take a break with a task you need to do very little thinking/decision making e.g. colouring in, watercoloring etc. Eliminating distractions is the biggest help to me. To do lists help. Work for 24 minutes, break for 5 minutes.
Self compassion, patience and permission to do things differently. The word I want comes back eventually or I find another one that works nearly as well. It’s ok sometimes to scroll through people’s profile photos to help you remember their names, you haven’t forgotten why they’re your friend. Calculators can do simple maths that your brain won’t do right now. Also, a nice reminder that it’s good to listen more than talk. My brain fog is mostly verbal memory recall.
For me, I really rely on notes as well and I keep a pad and pen in my bedroom and in my handbag. I seem to get my best ideas between 2 and 4am in the morning or during my daily walk. If I don’t capture them pretty much immediately they are gone for good. Because brain fog is also a sign of an inflamed body, it is a big sign for me to slow down, check in with my stress levels or anything that may have triggered the inflammation and only do what is essential.
I get lots more rest, practice self compassion and drink more water. I tend to work in flow with my energy and motivation levels so on better days I do more, not so better days I do less and during flares, I literally only do what absolutely needs to be done and nothing more.
If these tips have been useful for you, share this blog post around with anyone you think they might help.