During the days when you’re young and stress-free, you may not have noticed the ease when you could immediately name that movie, restaurant, or fourth-grade teacher.
However, as you become older, your brain may become less agile. Add a poor diet, cerebral overload from the never-ending news cycle, stress, or sheer worry, and you may find yourself difficult to find the appropriate words or remembering the name of that guy who was on that show about that issue.
This is known as “brain fog,” and it can be frightening, causing a mental cloud of anxiety that causes you to feverishly search Google for answers. The good news is that it is generally just temporary, and you can get your brain back on track with the correct lifestyle changes. We spoke with experts to find out what you can do to eliminate brain fog and boost your mental clarity.
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Why Do People Get Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a state of forgetfulness and bewilderment that is frequently accompanied with trouble concentrating. “The best way to describe it is when you don’t feel like yourself; it’s your brain’s way of telling you that something isn’t optimal,” says Mike Dow, PhD, PsyD, brain health specialist and author of The Brain Fog Fix.
“It can manifest differently for different people, such as difficulty recalling words, a gloomy mood, low energy, or forgetfulness.” While the causes of brain fog might range from a lack of sleep to a busy work week, most experts recommend changing your habit before seeking treatment.
7 Ways to Beat Brain Fog Naturally
1. Change Your Diet
Surprisingly, poor gut health is one of the primary causes of brain fog. “There is a ton of emerging research suggesting that sugar and processed foods, which feed the bad bacteria in our gut, lead to inflammation not only in the body, but also in the brain,” says Sarah Bridges, PhD, a Minnesota-based psychologist.
This is why you may feel sleepy after eating a sugary treat or a carb-heavy meal. That “crash” is not only bodily, but also mental. In fact, your gut system produces around 95% of dopamine and serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitters).
While you may not want to skip your favorite goodies entirely, experts recommend incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods or brain-boosting drinks into your diet.
“Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, and taking prebiotics and probiotics, can introduce healthy bacteria into the gut, which helps your body better produce those brain-boosting neurotransmitters,” explains Dow.
2. Get a Good Amount of Sleep
Sure, a bad night’s sleep here and there won’t make you groggy the next day, but if your general sleep patterns aren’t good, your brain won’t function well.
“Poor sleep habits can affect us in two ways: increasing our stress levels and interfering with the brain’s ability to rest and recover,” Bridges explains.
“This can be caused by an irregular sleep schedule, not sleeping well, or waking up in the middle of the night—all of which can cause transitory brain fog.”
3. Don’t Stress
Our minds are constantly bombarded with information from the news, social media, and the continual influx of texts and emails hitting our devices these days.
As a result, our minds easily get tired. “When we have too much cognitive load—that is, when we are doing too many things at once or have too much on our minds—it taxes our mental reserves,” Bridges adds. “It’s too much for our little brains.”
Experts believe that we have ultradian rhythms, which are cycles that occur during our waking hours. Bridges claims that working in 90-minute increments and then taking a break to grab water, go for a short walk, or make a phone call can assist enhance your brain function.
Meditation can also help clear your head. Dow recommends meditating for 12 minutes every day (although even a few minutes will help). And absolutely, try to put the phone down for a few hours a day to prevent information overload.
4. Sweat it Out
We know that a good workout circulates blood and oxygen throughout the body, so it seems to reason that a lack of exercise would have a detrimental influence on our brain.
Dow explains that “exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, allowing it to perform at its best.”
The good news is that you don’t always have to hop on a spin cycle or do burpees to begin moving. Even a daily walk or other low-impact workout of an hour or less will help reset your brain.
5. Tickle Your Brain
Dow believes that when it comes to the brain, the saying “use it or lose it” is really true.
So, instead of watching mind-numbing television, spend an hour playing solitaire, crossword puzzles, or a brain game – ideally one with a memory component. Even learning something new can give your brain a much-needed tune-up, as long as it’s fascinating and not stressful.
According to Bryan Raudenbush, PhD, PhD, professor of physical therapy neuroscience and research at Wheeling University, milk chocolate contains brain-boosting chemicals such as theobromine and phenethylamine.
Subjects in his study who ate 3 oz. Within 15 minutes, (approximately three or four mini bars or one standard-sized bar) revealed significant gains in response time, problem-solving skills, and visual memory.
7. Sing Your ABCs
Can’t recall the word or name on the tip of your tongue? This frustrating phenomenon called lethologica happens when dulled neural pathways block the brain from pulling words out of “storage.”
The fix? Slowly whisper the alphabet song to yourself — or sing it aloud if you prefer — thinking about each letter as you mouth or say it.
Research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests hearing the first letter of the word you’re looking for acts as a cue that signals your brain to release it at last.