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How to deal with ‘brain fog’ and stay mentally sharp

About 25 percent of COVID-19 survivors experience “brain fog” – a general term used to describe feelings of being mentally sluggish, confused, and pretty much “out of it” – a study by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information reported. 

These symptoms, which can last for months after a patient has recovered from the novel coronavirus, can be accompanied by headaches, poor memory, and impaired sustained attention or inability to concentrate.  

A neurologist says ‘brain fog’ or feeling mentally sluggish and confused is brain’s natural way to cope with stress and fear of uncertainty.
A neurologist says ‘brain fog’ or feeling mentally sluggish and confused is brain’s natural way to cope with stress and fear of uncertainty.
It appears, however, that “brain fog” not only affects those who have had the life-threatening disease. 

As the world continue to live with pandemic, long-term, low-grade stress and anxiety tend to make the mind wander off and zone out completely. 

“It’s normal,” assures Donnabelle Chu, MD of the Section of Neurology at Makati Medical Center. “Consider it your brain’s way of coping with the stress and fear of circumstances that are beyond your control, like the current pandemic.” 

There’s even a scientific basis for it. “The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which processes our critical thinking and ability to focus, shuts down during a sudden, highly stressful situation—say a potential road accident involving you and another driver,” explains Dr. Chu. “It then gives way to that primitive part of the brain to respond quickly and protect you from danger.” 

On the other hand, the pandemic, while life-threatening, is ongoing and does not require a quick response. This affects our ability to focus and concentrate.

“Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which the body releases during particularly tense moments, can also overwhelm and exhaust the brain if they stay too long in the system or come in excessive amounts,” Dr. Chu adds. 

Mental fogginess is temporary. Given the brain’s malleability, the neurologist says, a person experiencing “brain fog” can regain focus and concentration. 

Practice mindfulness. When thoughts begin to trail off, Dr. Chu says to get them back on track. “Thinking too far ahead of scenarios that may or may not happen is not only unproductive, it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Best to concentrate on what you can do in the here and now.” 

Make a to-do list instead of multi-tasking, listen to music to help relax the brain.

Train your brain. Crossword puzzles, chess, sudoku, solitaire, and other mind games that require a person to think can sharpen focus, the doctor says. “Spend at least 15 minutes playing any of these brain training games five days a week as they may enhance your working and short-term memory, as well as your processing and problem-solving skills.”

Take a break to clear the brain.
Take a break to clear the brain.
Exercise. Physical exercises like going for a walk or run, dancing, or doing yoga also offer multiple benefits to the brain. “Exercise promotes good circulation, is a great stress buster, and improves the quality of your sleep—all of which contribute to better thinking and concentration,” says Dr. Chu.

Healthy diet. Diet such as those rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, Omega 3, and whole grains can be beneficial to the brain’s ability to function well. Avoiding excessive alcohol intake also gives the brain a chance to heal and function properly.

Eliminate distractions. “If you must, check your Facebook or other social media accounts at specific times of the day only—like during your lunch break, or after you finish work,” Dr. Chu suggests. Clearing the desk of clutter and lowering the volume of background noise also help. 

Take a break. “Go for a walk. Take the entire day off. Give yourself enough time to sleep as it has been shown that the brain clears and eliminates toxins that affect our cognition when we sleep,” says Dr. Chu.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. These are challenging times and we’re all learning to cope in the best way we can.” 

Topics: brain fog , US National Center for Biotechnology Information
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