7 Ways to Get Rid of Brain Fog for a Stronger Recovery
People often complain about brain fog in their first year of recovery. This is the feeling that you can’t focus on anything, even simple tasks, you can’t remember things you should be able to remember, you don’t feel motivated, you can’t form a plan and follow it through, or maybe you feel sort of emotionally numb. Your brain has a lot of adjusting to do during this early period and it’s normal to feel a bit off. People who have recently quit stimulants may have an especially hard time with brain fog since stimulants unnaturally enhance the faculties mentioned above. Brain fog can be a major challenge for recovery because it makes you have doubts like, “Will I feel this way forever?” and “How am I supposed to function like this?” Brain fog usually goes away on its own as your brain slowly adapts to functioning without drugs and alcohol. The following tips may also help.
1.) Go to the Doctor
If it’s been a while since you detoxed--several months, at least--and you feel like your cognitive symptoms haven’t abated, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. Malnutrition is a common problem for people with substance use disorders. Medical detox and treatment programs typically try to address this issue, but if you didn’t go that route or if you’ve fallen back into old lifestyle habits, you may have some nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies in omega-3s, magnesium, B vitamins, and other nutrients may be causing your symptoms and your doctor can figure this out with a simple blood test. These are also usually easy to correct.
It’s also a good idea to rule out possible medical causes. Sleep apnea, thyroid problems, autoimmune disorders, and traumatic brain injuries are all possible causes of brain fog that you’ll want to rule out. You may also be on medications that are messing with your cognition and you’ll certainly want to discuss any change in medication with your doctor.
2.) Talk to Your Therapist
If there are no medical causes of your brain fog, talk to your therapist, if you haven’t already. Brain fog may have a psychological cause. Depression is the most likely. People often don’t realize that impaired concentration, slow thoughts, and poor memory are all common symptoms of depression. Lack of motivation and energy and emotional numbness are more well-known symptoms. Your symptoms may also be related to stress and anxiety. Psychotherapy, possibly with the assistance of medication, can help get these under control and that should improve your symptoms. However, some medications like beta-blockers have cognitive side effects, so you may want to avoid those.
3.) Dial-In Your Sleep
As for the things you have the most control over, sleep is the most common culprit when it comes to cognitive issues. Even a relatively modest sleep deficit can significantly affect your cognition, impairing your concentration, working memory, recall, planning, and self-control. Most studies suggest that we need at least seven hours of sleep a night to function optimally and for many people, even seven hours will be too little. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep a night and the optimum amount will vary by individual and by any extra recovery needs, such as recovering from physical exertion or illness.
If you’re getting less than seven hours a night, there’s a good chance that’s causing at least some of your cognitive problems. While too little sleep is by far the more common issue, it’s also important to be aware that too much sleep can also cause cognitive impairment. So if you’re sleeping more than nine hours a night on average, you might want to shorten it a bit. It’s also important to sleep regular hours. That will make it easier to fall asleep and to wake up and you will feel less tired with the same amount of sleep.
4.) Experiment With Your Diet
As noted above, nutritional deficits can affect your cognition, so eating a variety of whole foods, especially nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, will help fill some of those gaps. It may also help to eliminate certain foods. Inflammatory foods have been found to be especially bad for mood and cognition since they essentially trigger the same immune response you experience when you’re sick. Try reducing your intake of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, refined wheat, fried food, and processed meats. Alcohol is also highly inflammatory and impairs cognition, but if you’re in recovery, you should be avoiding alcohol already.
5.) Get More Exercise
Exercise is just as good for your brain as it is for your body. It increases blood flow to every part of the brain, it makes you less sensitive to stress, it improves your mood, and it helps grow new brain cells. Most research indicates that moderate-intensity aerobic exercise has the most cognitive and mental health benefits and one large study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that team sports are the single best exercise you can do for mental health. If your head is foggy, a game of basketball, a jog, bike ride, or walk may be just the thing you need.
Most of the items on this list are about removing the impediments to healthy cognition, but it may also help to challenge your brain more as well. Some of the cognitive impairment you feel after quitting drugs and alcohol comes from lack of use. It’s very easy to concentrate on things related to drugs and alcohol but everything else takes a back seat. You can start building up your focus and other cognitive skills by using them more frequently. Meditation is a great way to do this deliberately, but there are other ways to do this as well. Playing an instrument, for example, uses the whole brain and requires a lot of focus and coordination. High-skilled sports and possibly even some video games may also help.
7.) Be Patient
Finally, it’s important to be patient with yourself. It can be hard to go through your days in a fog, struggling to complete even the simplest tasks, but it will get better. Your brain has to heal from possibly a long time of drug and alcohol use and that just takes time. It’s also important to remember that whenever you feel challenged or frustrated trying to focus, your brain is actually adapting. Alternate periods of work and rest. After a time of trying to focus and remember, give yourself a real break, where you don’t do anything at all and be sure to get enough sleep. This gives your brain more opportunity to make the changes you require of it.
Recovery from addiction is a process and sometimes it feels way too slow. At The Foundry, we know that one of the biggest challenges of recovery is persisting day after day when progress isn’t always obvious. We’re here to support you and your family through treatment and beyond, to give you the best chance of success. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us at (844) 955-1066.