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Brain fog is like a thief who sneaks into my head and robs me of my most precious possessions.Tweet
Whether you refer to it as brain fog or fibro fog, one thing we can agree on is that unless you have experienced it, there is no understanding how terrifying it can be.
Today I am sharing how brain fog caused by fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis affects both my cognitive and physical abilities, plus how I deal with and decrease the number of episodes I experience.
What is it?
Brain fog is described as a type of cognitive dysfunction.
While not considered a medical condition by itself, it is a symptom of other medical conditions.
It is common for people who have been diagnosed with the following to experience brain fog:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Autoimmune diseases such as lupus, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis
- Sjögren syndrome
- Alzheimer’s disease
Inflammation, fatigue, or changes in blood glucose level may also cause brain fog.
What it steals
Where there were words lies a jumbled mess of letters and numbers, none of which make any sense.Tweet
Brain fog is a word thief!
My ability to communicate varies depending upon the severity of my current flare.
For example, there are times when I may completely forget a simple or common word. Other times I struggle to speak and blurt out random words or sentence fragments yet am able to fully write out my thoughts. Then there are some episodes when neither speaking or writing out my thoughts is possible.
Brain fog is a memory snatcher!
Everyone has at one time or another walked into a room and forgotten why or what they went in there for. Brain fog takes that experience to a whole new level.
Depending on the severity of an episode one may forget if they took their medication, returned an email or text message, or if they had a conversation with someone.
Brain fog erases emotions!
In my post Seven Embarrassing Fibromyalgia Symptoms, I talk about resting bitch face. In it I share how pain often takes over my facial expressions.
Fibro fog goes one further by altering my emotional response.
When experiencing brain fog my facial or vocal expressions may not convey what I am really feeling.
For example, I may be over the moon excited about your good news yet sound and look annoyed or displeased. To confuse matters more, my face may express joy while my voice conveys anger. And people wonder why I find it exhausting to spend extended periods of time talking with people.
Brain fog is also a body snatcher!
The brain is the body’s CPU. Without a functioning processor our bodies do not know what to do.
When experiencing a severe fibro fog flare I am not able to physically function the way I typically do.
One reason is that my brain isn’t sending the signals my body requires. Another is because certain physical movements may increase the severity of my current flare.
Please note that I am not a medical professional and am in no way issuing medical advice. Consult with your doctor before making changes to your treatment plan.
How to cope with it
Give your brain a day off!
When forgetting a word now and then, I power through. However, if I find myself struggling to find one or more words for every sentence or group of thoughts I attempt to write or verbalize, it is time for a break.
Forcing myself to speak or write during a severe brain fog flare up only makes it worse. My stress level spikes which increases inflammation. This frustration leads to an increase of anxiety and depression.
The best thing I can do during an intense flare is to give my brain a break by doing nothing that requires or demands my full attention or is of importance. Instead I spend the day streaming shows that I don’t care if I have to watch again.
I also avoid making important decisions and having conversations. If I don’t answer your phone call or respond as quickly as normal to your text, give me time as I am giving my brain a break.
While caused by various factors, swelling around the spine is my most common fibro fog trigger.
That is why I pay very close attention to and modify my physical activity the moment I recognize that I am experiencing any level of brain fog.
This past weekend was a perfect example.
My husband and I had planned to spend the day together at Disneyland. Already having to use a wheelchair for all day outings due to a knee injury, I had considered renting a motorized mobility scooter for the day because my knee pain hadn’t been interfering with my cognitive abilities.
I felt “off” on the morning of our outing. Anyone who knows me, knows that I always wear Minnie Ear headbands to the park. But that morning every headband I put on, even the ones that have felt loose in the past, felt like they were puncturing my brain.
I knew that operating a motorized vehicle of any kind was out of the question after I spent what felt like an eternity trying to figure out where to place my coffee cup while staring at the cup holder. Thankfully my husband drove the car and pushed my wheelchair throughout our outing.
Finding it difficult to make decisions or to interact with people, my husband and I cut our day short. We returned home to relax and watch one of our favorite shows.
If you find that physical movement worsens your brain fog flare, listen to your body and slow down!
Give your body and brain time to rest and recover.
If you don’t, you may find yourself in the same position I was in during my early chronic years. I ignored the needs and demands of my body/brain and the result was a four day hospital stay because my body mimicked symptoms of a stroke.
In addition to taking physical precautions I also avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners. Both have the ability to make my head feel like it is being filled with sand.
I also avoid fast food and any other foods that I have identified as inflammation triggers for my body.
How to prevent it
While impossible to prevent all brain fog episodes, it is possible to decrease how often they occur. There were periods during my chronic life where brain fog ruled my days and I was lucky to experience one or two days per month of being able to think clearly. Later after putting the following into practice, I am able to think clearly more days than not.
The following are things that you should track and monitor through journaling:
Diet: Log everything you eat and drink, when you consume it, and how you felt at that time plus how you felt later in the day and the next morning. I may feel fine right after eating a few bites of fudge, but find myself suffering from a sugar induced brain fog hangover the next morning.
Activity: Daily exercise has been a key factor in the reduction of how often I suffer from severe brain fog flares. Track your activity and compare it with your cognitive abilities.
Medication and Treatments: Have you recently changed medications or added a new treatment? Talk to your doctor to see if either could be contributing to increased brain fog.
Stress and Emotional Well-being: Releasing your emotions and thoughts through recording them in a journal is more than therapeutic, it is also a fabulous way to see if stress or depression are contributing to your mental fatigue.
Other things you can do is to limit and/or avoid stress, be mindful of what you eat, be vigilant in your pursuit of physical activity, and adhere to your treatment and pain management plans.
Two things that help decrease the severity or duration of a sever bout of brain fog that is triggered by swelling of my spine is to immediately begin treating my spine with PEMF therapy treatments and ice. I also make an extra effort to stay hydrated.
One last word of advice
Talk to your family and friends about brain fog.
Explain what it is and how it impacts your abilities and life.
Share that a lack of communication on your part during a flare is not a reflection of how you feel about them.
Ask if they would be willing to help out during a flare by offering to drive, push you in a wheelchair, or with other tasks when experiencing an extended flare.
And most importantly!!!! Never allow anyone to make you feel guilty for having to care for your health. Having to cancel or modify plans is a small price to pay versus the thousands that would be spent if you choose to ignore your body’s needs.
What helps you prevent and cope with brain fog?