NB: This is the last post in a four-post series about how to combat “fibro fog” and improve cognitive function. Post #1 examines fibro fog in its various manifestations and examines some possible causes. It also provides an overview of a three-phased approach to combating fibro fog that the remaining posts in the series examine in more detail. Post #2 looks at improving sleep; post #3 outlines strategies to keep your brain challenged and healthy; and this post examines various coping mechanisms to deal with the fibro-fog effects that can’t be eliminated by the first two phases.
If you diligently work the first two phases — sleep improvement and brain exercise through chess, music, or number puzzles (or better, all three) — you should see a noticeable improvement in your fibro fog symptoms. However, you may not eliminate all of those symptoms, and so phase three is all about learning tricks and tips to cope with the occasional brain misfires.
Clutter around the house equals clutter in the mind. Some may resist this notion, but I’ve found it to be unassailably true in my own life. When my house is a wreck, my confusion increases. When things get relatively straight, my memory improves.
Give it a try and see if it helps you. Don’t attempt to declutter all at once, though. For most of us, this is a long project, that requires planning and the dedication of at least a few weekends.
One method that seems to work well for me, without triggering post-exertional flareups, is to dedicate no more than 20 minutes each day to decluttering, and spending that time on one small area of the house at a time. If the timer goes off before I’m done, I quit anyway, and pick up where I left off the next day. Also, delegate some of the work to other household members! Even small children can help by going through old clothes or sorting things into piles for giveaway, or putting “throw-away” items into a large garbage bag.
Notetaking is probably the single most important coping mechanism I’ve found in battling the effects of fibro fog. I always have a notepad with me. I prefer these reporter-style Moleskines (NB: affiliate link) which you can get at Amazon or most bookstores, but simple and cheap versions are available at almost any drugstore or big box retailer like Walmart. Wherever I go, I have one with me, and I keep one in my purse and another in the car at all times, along with pens.
Learn to Love the Sound of Your Voice
Another helpful coping mechanism is to invest in a small digital recorder. Most models are tiny enough to fit into a woman’s purse. Keep yours loaded with a fresh tape. Whenever something hits you that you want to recall later, simply make note of it on the recorder along with the date and time of day. Then, make a habit of reviewing the tapes nightly before bed, jotting down any notes you want to keep track of (perhaps in your reporter notebook, as mentioned above).
Get Things Done
If you haven’t heard of David Allen’s aggressive and highly effective time and task management system outline in his bestselling Getting Things Done book, you might want to check it out. This system won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Some find it intimidating in its insistence on organized, updated lists and structure. But there are several aspects of the system that are particularly useful for fibro fog sufferers:
- Create agendas for individuals and businesses. Keep a list of items to discuss with particular people. Sort the list by name, if you like, or just keep one master list and jot down each person’s name before the item to be discussed. Then, the next time you see that person, you can simply pull out the list and check off what you discussed, along with any notes that you might need to remember.
- Strive for an empty “inbox” — whether that’s email or a virtual “tasks” inbox. Aim to sort everything that comes across your desk or your consciousness just once.
- Learn to love the “two minute” rule. If it takes less than two minutes to do whatever needs doing with any incoming item, then go ahead and do it. Otherwise, put it in an appropriate file or folder, whether that’s a physical file on your desk or a folder on your computer. Organize your folders into large groupings such as “Deferred Items,” “To Delegate,” “Need More Information,” or “To Be Filed/Reference.”
- Cultivate the helpful habit of a weekly review. Each week, on a particular day (some suggest Fridays or Sundays as particularly good days for this), set aside half an hour or so to go over your notes and files from the prior week. If some appointment or task is suggested by this review, go ahead and schedule it for a specific time and date. If you can file it, do so. If it needs to be researched, then make plans to get the information you need. The idea is to start and end each week with an overview of what’s gone before, and what’s coming up, and hopefully an empty “inbox”!
- Keep your calendar scrupulously updated. I suggest using two calendars — a physical one and a computer-based one. Whichever is your primary calendar, use that one to update the other. It’s most helpful to use a small pocket-sized or “junior” sized physical calendar, one that can be schlepped around in a purse or briefcase. Then you can add items to your calendar throughout your day, no matter where you are. When you return to the computer, you can update the computer calendar with more information as needed.
- Investigate a few of the many computer “capture” tools. I particularly like Evernote, as it’s free to use for most of us, and has a handy web clipper button that inserts itself into your browser window, so you can capture notes from web pages, along with the URL of the site. Then you can add tags to your notes, slip them into the appropriate files or folders, and be done with it. Highly efficient!
Diet, Supplements, and Aromatherapy
Even if you’re skeptical of all that “New Age” stuff, you might want to give these options a try. Studies support the use of each to aid memory and brain function:
- Vitamins. Make sure you take at a minimum a daily multivitamin. You can add extra D and B complex to aid in memory and cognitive function.
- Gingko biloba and Omega 3. Each of these is thought to assist in brain function as well.
- Rosemary — scent. Use either natural rosemary oils in a diffuser or burn a “rosemary stick” if you can find one locally. (These are simply bound-up bundles of dried rosemary that smolder when lit. Be careful to have a large bowl of sand available to extinguish the embers when you’re done, though!)
- Rosemary — cooking. Add rosemary to dishes to protect your body’s natural supply of acetylcholine, which attacks free radicals in the body that can diminish cognitive functions.
- Shellfish. Be mindful of the potential for mercury intake, but if you have a safe source, shellfish are thought to boost brain function.
- Good nutrition overall. Failure to eat sufficient nutrients for basic life functions can have a devastating impact on our overall health, including brain function. Make sure you’re taking in enough calories overall for your size and body weight, and that those calories are provided by natural, whole foods, not highly processed snacks and derivatives.
- Water. It’s easier than you might think to get dehydrated. Make sure you’re drinking sufficient water to keep yourself hydrated. There’s absolutely no scientific evidence for the old saw about “eight glasses a day”, by the way — four to six is probably sufficient, and don’t forget all water counts, even the water found naturally in food and other drinks.
Meditate, Every Day
Not only useful for stress reduction, which is itself helpful for improving your brain function, meditation also teaches us over time to remain equanimous in the face of anxiety triggers. It also teaches us to be “in the moment”, which helps tremendously to create a state of what’s called “flow” — that easy, natural sensation you sometimes experience when you’re fully engaged in an activity, and things just easily “flow” from one stage to the next.
You need no special equipment or training to meditate. Simply set aside fifteen to thirty minutes every day where you won’t be disturbed. Wear comfortable clothing, and find a seated position that allows you to keep your spine straight. (Beginners should avoid lying down as it’s all too easy to simply all asleep while meditating; while rest is also good, meditation requires a deeply relaxed yet still conscious state of mind.) Then close your eyes and … you have a choice:
- Bring to mind a mantra or phrase that has meaning for you. “I am well” — “om” — “peace surrounds me” — “God is with me” — all of these will work just fine.
- Count your breaths. Simply observing and counting your breaths will keep the rest of your mind from interrupting with daily trivia and is a powerful meditation technique.
- Consider intruding thoughts like butterflies or falling leaves: simply observe them and then make them “fly away” or fall to the ground, giving them no import or emotional significance. Then return your mind to a peaceful, blank-slate state.
There are many methods of meditating. Explore them all until you find one that feels good to you. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t seem to manage more than a few minutes at a time. Every little bit helps, and it takes practice to develop the skill of holding that empty-mind state for a length of time. Whatever you do, don’t use meditation as one more thing to beat yourself up over!
Nootics: The Wave of the Future?
The efficacy of nootics — substances such as nutritional supplements, foods, drugs, and the like that are believed to enhance memory or cognitive skills — have yet to be proven conclusively. However, some fibromites (and others) claim they’ve experienced benefits from their use.
Wikipedia (although not universally helpful) does have some good information on nootics, if you’d like to consider their use. You may also want to review Nootropics.com, although it has a clear agenda. For a scholarly approach, try this abstract of “Memory enhancing drugs and Alzheimer’s Disease: Enhancing the self or preventing the loss of it?”
As with any new treatment, please consult your doctor before adding nootropics to your regimen, to ensure against contraindicated measures.
Bottom Line: Stay Positive and Stay Involved
That’s the end of our three-step “How to Combat Fibro Fog” series! I hope you enjoyed it, and got something out of it that you can try. Did I miss a particularly helpful strategy you’ve tried? Share it in the comment