The symptoms of Fibro fog (brain fog) can be very frustrating. You can’t think straight, can’t remember things, lose your train of thought, and sometimes make mistakes because of it. In addition to being in pain and dealing with exhaustion, we have to deal with being fogged out. Having these cognitive issues is difficult enough, but they also can do a number on our self-esteem because they are so disruptive to everyday activities, our social lives, and our work performance.
Symptoms of Fibro Fog include:
- Inability to concentrate
- Memory problems
- Inhibited verbal skills or the inability to find the correct words
- Problems multi-tasking
- Feelings of depression
- Feelings of anxiety
- Impaired cognitive ability
- Losing things
- Impaired judgment
- Forgetting entire conversations
Memory issues can be particularly troublesome. There are different aspects to memory and they are all impacted by Fibromyalgia. For example, semantic memory is what gives us the ability to recall facts and general information. Working memory is part of short-term memory and obviously involved in learning and processing new information. Meta-memory is the awareness of our own memory.
Problems with memory alone affect so much of our cognitive function in general. Judgment, for example, isn’t always good when making decisions and that’s because we are unable to recall past experiences or lessons which help us to have good judgment in the first place.
Causes of Fibro Fog
There hasn’t been enough research done yet to determine exactly what causes brain fog (also called dyscognition) in people who have Fibromyalgia. One small study showed that Fibro fog was not caused by depression or anxiety and was related to pain. It also stated “Fibromyalgia patients’ complaints about their memory are likely to be legitimate….” but we already know that! For a link to that study, click HERE: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11592377.
However, it is reassuring that there is more research being done on this condition that was ignored and dismissed for so long. It’s already well known that chronic sleep problems contribute to brain fog and can even cause dementia long term, so it makes sense that sleep deprivation is likely a contributor too. We also know that chronic pain in and of itself causes inhibited cognitive ability.
The National Fibromyalgia Society publishes current and upcoming research studies on their website with links to sign up if you’re interested in participating. Click HERE (http://www.fmaware.org/about-fibromyalgia/science-of-fm/fibromyalgia-research/) to go to their page.
Managing Fibro Fog
Fibromyalgia is a complex syndrome with multiple contributing factors, as is the brain fog associated with it. Managing the emotional and mental aspects can be overwhelming and exhausting. Even if you have a strong support system, it can be quite challenging to navigate through Fibro fog.
What has helped me tremendously is to get myself organized which includes planning for things that I know will happen that will be outside of my control. This might sound strange and you might be wondering how you can plan for the unexpected. The key is to be both realistic about your limitations and to be flexible.
First, I would recommend keeping a journal to begin your journey of finding balance. Jot down a few lines of how you are feeling each day and keep track of what the triggers are that cause your symptoms to flare. I’d also keep track of what you eat, how you’re sleeping, and your activity levels. This will help you to recognize patterns. You may find that you are trying to do too many activities and not taking enough time to rest. A journal can also help identify what time of day you are more productive.
I also make “to do” lists each week and even daily, which really helps when I am experiencing Fibro Fog. Some people use post-it notes to remind them of things throughout their day. What I like about making a list is that I don’t forget things or lose sight of what I want to get accomplished. You can also use a calendar and spread your “to do” list out over the week or month.
It’s crucial that you also schedule rest breaks and downtime. Be flexible and postpone activities when you’re not feeling good. By keeping a planner, you’ll be able to move things around as needed. Even when I have had to scratch activities for a day that I had planned, I feel better if I’ve rescheduled those activities. If I am remiss and don’t stay on top of my planner and/or journal, I find that I get more easily sucked down the rabbit hole in my mind of self-deprecating thoughts that I’m not doing enough.
Other things that you can do to help yourself through Fibro fog are:
- Drink more water with electrolytes and also green tea. Occasionally I found that dehydration can make matters worse and hydrating more helped.
- Cut back on activities that aren’t that important.
- Maintain a routine.
- Break down bigger tasks into smaller ones (put it on the calendar!)
- See your doctor and make sure that you don’t have other underlying conditions such as a low functioning thyroid or imbalanced hormones.
- Take your supplements! B Complex, Vitamin D3, Magnesium, and a good quality Fish oil are all important in not only how you feel from day to day, but also for your long-term health.
- I’ve found a couple of supplements that specifically help with Fibro-fog. They are: an herb called “Bacopa” and a supplement called “Brain Support” made by “1-Body”, both of which can be purchased on Amazon.
- Eat a nutritious diet; this is instrumental in both your physical and mental health
- Exercise – you may think I’m nuts for suggesting you exercise when you’re feeling exhausted all the time, but I’ve been in your shoes. Exercise, making sure to keep it light, has helped me tremendously and I find my stamina increasing week by week. Numerous studies have also shown that exercise increases energy levels once you get used to it. And again, baby steps! If you can only walk up the block for a few hundred feet, start there.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Getting good sleep helps with Fibro Fog tremendously. See my page on improving sleep for help with this. https://fibromyalgiarecovery.com/improve-sleep/
- Listen to your body and don’t overdo it. This can be a delicate balance, especially if you’re beginning to exercise. Be sure and pace yourself, and if you feel like you’re getting derailed, then back off for a few days and rest.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Slow-flow yoga, or even Chair Yoga are both excellent forms of exercise that can help improve not just your body, but also your mind and spirit. The National Institute of Health completed a study on how yoga affects women with Fibromyalgia. They specifically looked at effects on psychological functioning, pain levels, and cortisol levels. The women attended yoga twice weekly for an 8-week period. Results were promising and all of the women improved in all three categories by the end of the study period.
The important thing is to pace yourself and just start somewhere.