Struggling with mental clouds? Here’s how to clear your head

When you were younger – or just kid-free, stress-free, and pandemic-free – you may not have even noticed the ease with which you turned a phrase, or could immediately name that actress, that restaurant, or your fourth grade teacher. As you get older, though, your brain may not be quite as nimble. Add to that poor diet, an overload of mental input, stress and anxiety, and you may sometimes find yourself struggling to find the right words or remember the name of that guy who was in that show about that thing. It's called "brain fog" and it can be nerve-racking, creating a brain fog anxiety that can have you frantically searching Google for answers.

So what is brain fog exactly? The best way to describe it is when you really just don't feel like yourself. It's actually your brain's way of telling you that something isn't optimal. It can unfold differently for different people. It could be trouble bringing words to mind, a gray mood, low energy, or forgetfulness.

The good news is that it's usually just temporary, and with the right lifestyle changes, you can get your brain back on track. We have compiled things you can do to clear away the brain fog.

Change up your diet

Oddly enough, poor gut health is one of the leading brain fog causes. There is a ton of emerging research suggesting that the sugar and processed foods, which feed the bad bacteria in our gut, lead to inflammation not only in the body, but in the brain. It’s why you may often feel sleepy after a sugary treat or carb-heavy meal. That “crash” is not only physical, but mental as well. In fact, about 95 per cent of dopamine and serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitters) are produced in your intestinal tract.

While you may not want to skip your favourite goodies entirely, experts recommend incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods 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. You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting enough omega-3s, either from clean seafood or supplements, which can also remedy brain fog.

Intermittent fasting – limiting your eating window to 10 hours per day – may also improve brain function. Intermittent fasting causes new brain cell growth, called neurogenesis. By giving your body a break from digesting, you’re actually giving your brain a break as well.

Alleviate your stress

These days, our brains are inundated with information from the news, social media, and the constant influx of texts and emails flooding our smartphones. The result: Our brains are fatigued. When you have too much of a cognitive load – meaning you’re doing too many things at once, or have too much on your mind – it taxes our mental reserves. It’s too much for our brains.

According to experts, we have something called ultradian rhythms, which are cycles that play out during our waking hours. Research suggests that working in 90-minute intervals, and then taking a break to get water, take a short walk, or make a phone call, can help improve your brain power. By minimising those stretches of work time, you alleviate the stress on your brain.

Improve your sleep habits

Sure, a bad night’s sleep here and there is going to leave you sluggish the next day, but if your overall sleep patterns aren’t optimal, your brain won’t be at its best. Poor sleep habits can hit us in two ways, increasing our stress levels and disrupting the brain’s opportunity to rest and recover. This can come from having an inconsistent sleep schedule, not sleeping soundly, or waking up in the middle of the night – all of which can give you transitory brain fog.

Get a walk in

We know that a good workout gets the blood and oxygen flowing through the body, so it makes sense that exercise would also give the brain a boost. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, helping it to perform at its peak. The good news is you don’t always have to hop on a spin bike or get in some burpees to get moving (although those help!). Even a daily walk – an hour is best – can reset your brain.

Of course, if these lifestyle improvements aren’t fixing the problem, and your brain fog seems to be lingering, you may want to check in with your doctor.