By Kristen Carter
What ideas do you have for dealing with brain fog?
This is a topic close to my heart – or head – these days as Taxol knocks my brain offline for a couple of days a week. Brain fog can make it hard to get organized; remember things; complete tasks; find the right words when you speak; learn new things; keep track of names, dates, or your schedule; and make you feel “spacey” and easily distracted.
But chemo brain isn’t the only thing that can cause us to feel foggy and unclear.
Various medications besides chemo
Lack of or poor-quality sleep
Poor diet – treats like candy and chips can provide an immediate brain boost, but aren’t good brain or body fuel (and sweets can lead to a sugar crash)
Lack of exercise
Too much time on electronic devices
Alcohol, which significantly impairs cognitive functioning while in your body, then can cause withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, headache, vertigo, and other brain fog symptoms. In addition, a 2021 study associated chronic alcohol use with increased inflammation in the brain and body, which can lead to increased cognitive impairments and neurological disorders.
Many of these triggers are within your power to change. Here are some ideas:
Hydration – drink plenty of water, electrolyte drinks, herbal/decaffeinated teas. I’ve been going for IV fluids in the days after my infusions and they help enormously as well.
Get good sleep. Go to bed around the same time every day, even on weekends, if you can; wind down at least an hour before bed by shutting off your electronics, which are associated with a higher incidence of insomnia and shorter sleep duration (at the very least, set your phone so that it is in ‘night mode’ after sunset; this will reduce the amount of blue light being emitted); darken your room with blackout shades; run a sleep sound machine or app to mask street or household noises.
Check the label of the OTC and prescription medications you’re taking to see if they’re contributing to your fogginess
De-stress with deep breathing, yoga, Qi Gong (a personal favorite), or doing something creative
Avoid caffeine after about mid-afternoon
Get regular exercise – even a little walk can lift the fog
Spend time in nature
Call a friend – research suggests social connection improves brain function
Allow your brain to be still and quiet for a bit – other research shows that even a few mindful minutes can increase concentration
Eat well. Brainfoods include Omega 3 oils (the brain is about 60% fat) from fish or supplements. Foods high in antioxidants (such as blueberries, oranges, and nuts) help reduce oxidative stress in the body, which can have a positive effect on the brain and body.
Certain stimulants can help as well. Tea or coffee in the morning lift many people’s energy and fog, but be warned that caffeine is dehydrating, so drink some water or other hydrating drinks as well. There are prescription medications that can help if you’re really struggling; ask your doctor about Ritalin or Adderall if you think they might be right for you.
Give your brain a workout with a crossword or jigsaw puzzle, a good book, or apps like Elevate
These ideas are for the temporary kind of brain fog that affects so many of us now and then. If yours feels unbearable or pervasive, talk to your doctor about it.