Brain fog is an interesting dilemma. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t know better, but sufferers recognize the symptoms. We sympathize with each other and accept it is.
Imagine a mountain range, with each mountain representing a task that you need to perform. You’re standing at the peak of one mountain while your thoughts swirl around just below. Brain fog is the thing isolating you to the point you’re standing from anything else. You can almost see them, but brain fog is blocking your way, making it harder to do almost every task. To retrieve each thought, translate it to an action and move on to the next one requires more effort than the clear-minded person.
As someone who’s had to be productive, even at my foggiest, I learned the following five simple tips to get through the day.
Tip 1. Do not caffeinate yourself into a tizzy.
It’s a rookie mistake. Caffeine can help, but more is not better. I know it’s tempting. I know that feeling when the words you want to express are within such close reach that you can count the syllables. For a second, you can imagine reaching through the fog to pluck the necessary function to get through an article, make a phone call or hold a conversation. If only you could reach a little further.
But stop! I’ve been there and it’s not pretty.
When you’ve overdosed on caffeine, the opposite happens. The thoughts start to flit unpredictably below the fog so you can’t tell which is the one you need or how to retrieve it. Your heart races so fast your body trembles. The small vibrations run across your fingertips, over your wrists. They crawl up to your shoulders and then slither down your spine. The sensation, which is all you can grasp in that moment, overwhelms you. Goosebumps dash across your shoulder and suddenly the room is a lot colder. Your heart sinks deep into your chest, still beating forcefully. Even breathing can become a task.
Too much caffeine makes it impossible to focus on anything requiring the smallest semblance of attention. You are not processing. You are barely there. Seconds tick by, then minutes and hours.
Tip 2. Don’t talk too much.
If you’re lucky, brain fog will attack when you’re waiting for your bagel to toast or when you’re blocking someone from the coffee machine. When the person politely taps you to move aside, it won’t be surprising that you’re a little shell-shocked, your eyes darting side to side as you try to reorient yourself to your surroundings. They will apologize for startling you.
Don’t come clean. Smile graciously and make a joke about the funny weather you’ve been having. I know there’ll be regrets in 10 years, but it’s so nice out today! Your twitchy eyes are a thing of the past.
Tip 3. Be poised. Distract or redirect.
If brain fog attacks on a date, at least you’re not in a meeting with a colleague who’s observing you critically, making mental notes on what to report to others. They would have been ready to raise up concerned points of feedback that might resemble gossip, but are only in your best interest.
If it happens at work, at least it’s not on a stressful job interview where everything you do is as important as everything you don’t do. But even then, don’t sweat it! Make sure they don’t catch that moment your eyes start to glaze over. Take a sip of coffee, make a joke. Look at that over there!
Remember your cues: maintain eye contact, nod at regular intervals and keep a neutral facial expression. Worst case scenario, they’ll think you’re conceited.
Tip 4. It will happen. Accept it and learn on how to deal.
Brain fog happens to everyone. Maybe not as much. Maybe it only happens when they’ve not eaten properly or gotten enough sleep the night before. But you’re just especially lucky in that department.
Don’t be angry with yourself. Be angry at the universe, but that’s only as far as anger can take you. Your tantrums won’t change anything. The universe will shrug.
Tip 5. Go with it. Dream on.
Whatever work you have to do isn’t limited to the computer or at a desk. I have crafted entire emails in my head and stored them away until I could sit still enough to send them out. I wrote this article in my head until I was finally able to sit down and reorder the sentences into a logical structure. I like to think that my abstract thinking is an art. How many people can just check out of a terrible conversation? Or reduce level 9 pain to a mere 7 or 8?
As frustrating mind fog can be, it’s also given me the permission consider the possibilities beyond any moment. It’s made me seek out more and more exciting things to douse myself in. It’s turned me into a human thesaurus for God’s sake!
Over time, you will conquer even your most challenging mental difficulties. You’ll learn to bounce back from any accidental slip-ups. You’ll learn to act in the moment, adapt to your current mental clarity and reclaim your confidence in being able to get shit done.
Your thoughts may not be linear, but they can be rearranged to create coherence and communicate with others. Your mind may not always be clear, but you’ll develop strategies to use at a moment’s notice.
Sure, brain fog is unpredictable. But you’re also not the alone in this. I’ve learned from where others have reached and you will too from where I’ve reached. Between us all, we’ve got so much to work with!