Saturday 17 February 2018

Clear the fog

Brain fog is a symptom of modern life, but there are ways to clear the haze

Brain fog is a symptom of the always-connected, go, go, go lifestyle. Photo: Deposit photos
Brain fog is a symptom of the always-connected, go, go, go lifestyle. Photo: Deposit photos

The term 'brain fog' was previously used to describe a set of symptoms experienced by those suffering from chronic illness or undergoing chemotherapy. Nowadays, it's used to describe the symptoms of living in a multitasking, multi-device world.

As Mike Dow writes in The Brain Fog Fix, "The way we eat, sleep, work, and live is flooding, starving, clogging, and disrupting our brains by destabilising the levels of three crucial brain chemicals: serotonin, dopamine and cortisol. We experience these biological problems as brain fog, scatterbrain, memory loss, fatigue, anxiety, and the blues."

If your thinking is clouded and your focus is unsettled, these simple lifestyle changes could make a difference.

* Give up multitasking - We know by now that multitasking doesn't actually exist. Those who think they are multitasking are in fact just switching from one task to another in rapid succession. Trying to multitask will compound the symptoms of brain fog and take its toll on your memory in the long run. Embrace single-tasking with single-minded focus instead.

* Allocate slots of time to each task - Parkinson's Law dictates that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Hence when someone has a bout of brain fog and no deadline, work tends to expand into perpetuity. Counteract this by allocating slots of time to tasks - even simple household chores. This will keep you focussed on the task at hand, and motivated to get it done within a specific time-frame.

* Try the Feynman Technique - Named after the late physicist Richard Feynman, the Feynman technique is a deceptively simple method for retaining information. When you learn something new, take out a piece of paper and write it out as you understand it, explaining the concept as you would if you were teaching it to a class. Continue to do this until you can explain it in the simplest terms possible.

* Get into nature - According to a University of Michigan study, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20pc after people spent an hour interacting with nature.

* Eat that frog - Procrastination adds density to brain fog. If you spend more time writing to-do lists than ticking them off, take the advice of Mark Twain and 'eat a live frog' first thing in the morning. In other words, get the worst task done first, so that you can bask in a sense of accomplishment for the rest of the day.

* Listen to Mozart - Listening to classical music is proven to aid concentration. 'The Mozart Effect', as it is known, is also said to improve self-discipline and social skills in children.

* Embrace non-doing - For many people, brain fog is a symptom of the always-connected, go, go, go lifestyle. The irony is that one of the greatest productivity hacks is learning how to carve out moments for doing nothing at all. These mental breaks give the brain the downtime it requires to consolidate information, join the dots and make connections.

* Don't use the TV as background noise - Try to get out of the habit of using the TV as background noise - especially if you're on the laptop! In a study of college students, 90 participants were asked to read a science article, either in silence or with a TV on in the background. When their recall of the article was tested afterwards, the group who read the article in silence remembered more.

* Practise breath of fire - Brain fog can often feel disorientating. To regain composure, try Breath of Fire - a yogic breathing technique that both calms and energises. Breathe quickly and loudly - in and out through the nose - pulling the abdomen in towards the diaphragm during the exhalation and out during inhalation. Make sure the diaphragm is relaxed and do at least one breath per second, moving up to two or three per second with practice. This technique is contraindicated for pregnant and menstruating women.

* Take a cold shower - Cold showers boost circulation, lift the mood and improve mental alertness. For an easier option, turn the dial to cold for the last two minutes.

* Make time for longform content - Due to diminishing attention spans, we now prefer to process information in shorter bursts - watching countless episodes on Netflix rather than a film, conveying information across numerous stream-of-consciousness messages on WhatsApp rather than a single text and (hands up) reading bullet points in listicles. This can lead to over-stimulation, which can in turn trigger brain fog. Add lengthier, more meditative documentaries, films and articles to your cultural diet and notice the effect it has on your concentration.

* Be honest with yourself - People often go looking for supplements and quick-fix solutions when they develop the symptoms of brain fog. In most cases, however, the solution is much simpler. Are you overworking or under-sleeping? Likewise, are you eating the right food and getting enough exercise? Tackle these issues before you start exploring other strategies.

* Don't identify with it - Forgetfulness can often be self-perpetuating. If you've started to become scatty-minded, be careful not to make it part of your identity. A statement such as 'My memory is like a sieve these days,' is a negative self-script that fundamentally makes further incidents of forgetfulness more likely.

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