Yesterday was a red-letter day in the 50Sense household. I went upstairs to get something and actually remembered what it was. Usually, menopause brain fog has me so bewildered that I head off to do something, get there and have no idea why I’m staring at the bookcase, or the chest of drawers, or the table.
Forgetfulness is one of the jokes of menopause. We’ve all seen the cartoons – in fact, I’ve shared many of them (which reminds me, I have to post something on the 50Sense Facebook page! Hope you’re following me). But in truth, it’s not a laughing matter.
Menopausal brain fog has made me miss appointments and meetings, forget to contact people and leave cups of tea standing undrunk. Thank goodness I haven’t forgotten any pans on the hob – yet!
“Fog” is the best word for it because it is like a cloud over your brain, making everything a little harder to see.
It makes me hazy all day, unable to remember if I’ve truly corrected something at work or not, for example, which then sparks menopausal anxiety – usually at 2am. Then there is the niggle in your mind as you’re not sure if you’ve got to do something or not. It’s constant white noise that make it hard to concentrate and can interfere with your entire life.
Many women say they suffer with menopausal brain fog, but there are ways to combat it and make life a little less stressful.
What is menopause brain fog?
Brain fog isn’t a medical condition – you can’t take tablets to make it better. But it is a time when you may feel confused or disorganised, or have difficulties organising your thoughts or words (or organising your thoughts into words).
According to researchers, about 60% of midlife women have trouble concentrating, remembering, thinking or problem-solving. This hits a peak during peri-menopause years (the years leading up to the actual menopause). I know I can feel the cogs turning more now than I used to (you should hear the celebrations if I my mental arithmetics match up with my accounts spreadsheet).
While the effects of menopause brain fog are subjective, hitting some more than others, that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Researchers in the US found there was a link between memory and the ability to do tasks and oestrogen levels – when that pesky hormone drops, we get brain fog.
“There really is something going on in the brain,” said psychiatry professor Julie Dumas in 2016. “You’re not crazy.”
So if you’re menopausal and having trouble with:
putting words together;
you’re not alone and you’re not losing your mind.
If it makes you feel better, women can also have brain fog during their menstrual cycle but not really notice it because it’s so short.
Is this permanent?
No! Research shows that the effects of menopause on our brain is temporary (that includes mood swings, too).
“During the menopause transition, a woman’s brain may feel a little off, a little muddy, but when the transition passes, the clouds clear and the fog lifts,” says US women’s health specialist Dr Gail Greendale.
How can I tackle menopause brain fog?
There are a variety of methods you can try to help:
Stressing adds to the confusion so the first thing to do is relax. You’re not losing your mind. Also, make time in your day for relaxation exercises: research shows that it can help reduce menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, tension, mood swings and depression. My Pausitivity colleague Karen swears by the Clarity app for helping her.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
What we eat can play a huge role in our brain health. Make sure your diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and vitamins E and D.
The Mediterranean diet is often cited as having huge benefits, especially for peri and post-menopausal women, so look to fill your meals with:
fruits and vegetables
fish, especiallythose rich in omega-3s, such as salmon, tuna, trout and sardines, and
olive oil – do go for the most expensive you can afford. Your tastebuds will love you for it.
Red meat is okay, but in small amounts. Try to have fish twice a week. Coming back to the UK from Spain, we look with disappointment at the fish counters (even the small supermarkets in Madrid have a wide selection of easy-to-afford fish and shellfish) but we’ve started buying frozen from Dockside. They deliver to your home and the sizes and quality are fantastic. (And no, I’m not paid by them. Apart from my debit card details, they don’t even know 50Sense exists!)
Finally, make sure you’re hydrated, too. Studies have shown time and again that water is essential to keep your brain working effectively.
Get enough rest
I know, I know, easier said than done when you’re menopausal. But getting a good night’s sleep is a great way to beat the brain fog.
Check out my sleep tips to help if you’re having trouble dropping off. I am also currently swearing by Johnson’s Bedtime Bath and I know it’s meant for babies, but it’s kind on your skin and filled with gentle essences to help you sleep.
And of course:
cut down on the caffeine, especially after 4pm (my big downfall, I know). Chi Fit Sleep Tea Blend tastes wonderful and is a great way to get you ready for bed;
don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed, otherwise you’re going to be gurgling and hurgling (is that a word?) all night;
make sure your room is at a cool temperature, and
try those relaxation techniques just before bed so you’re nice and chilled.
Get out and exercise
Don’t shout! I know, I mention this a lot – but that’s because it works.
Exercise kicks off all those good hormones in your brain that not only make you feel good, but researchers think it can help brain fog too.
Try for 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week – 5×30 minutes is perfect. That can be running, walking the dog, Zumba, cycling, swimming, aquarobics, step… Whatever you enjoy.
And incorporate some weights into your routine, too. Your body will love you for it.
Exercise your brain, too
Your brain needs a workout, too, so get into the crossword puzzles, or read a hefty thriller (John Le Carré always makes my brain work!), or start a hobby.
I’ve started playing guitar – electric! I rock – to get my brain stimulated. I used to play when I was a little girl (with Lee “Billy Elliott” Hall!) but stopped when I realised you couldn’t grow your nails. Well, menopause means my nails snap now so I keep them short (it’s no hardship. Since learning how toxic nail varnish bottles are, I have gone off putting polish on. I can’t look at nice nails and not think of the damage they’re doing.)
But it is a wonderful way to switch off and leave the world behind. I tackle a few chords and then have a strumalong with something easy and for 30 minutes, nothing else matters. It not only helps my brain while it works at remembering chord positions, it’s helping my fingers stay agile and forces me to live in the moment. I love it.
Get a nice journal!
As everything with the menopause, brain fog is nothing to be ashamed of. Acknowledge what is happening to you, get a nice journal or notebook and write down appointments etc.
I used to always be able to remember when I had a meeting, or something to do. Now I can’t. It’s not my fault and I’m not to blame. So I give my menopause respect and try to make a note of things.
Well, I say “try to” because it’s a habit and my habit of a lifetime is to juggle things in my brain. But it’s a learning process and soon, it will become second nature and hopefully, I won’t miss that coffee date again!
One last word…
If you find your brain fog is really impacting on your life and nothing seems to help, go to your GP and rule out any other medical condition.
WHAT TRICKS DO YOU DO TO TACKLE MENOPAUSE BRAIN FOG? LEAVE ME A COMMENT BELOW. I’D LOVE TO KNOW WHAT HELPS YOU.