By Aanika Parikh
For those of us who were fortunate enough to remain medically unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccines brought an end to the stagnancy of what had been our three-hundred-something dreary nights spent staring at our living room walls. For many, the term “brain fog” became an everyday phenomenon that had been inching namelessly into their lives for so long. For students like me, this meant unmuting myself during online classes and immediately feeling my train of thought charge in the opposite direction. It meant spending sleepless nights fighting the bouts of unused energy that preoccupied my thoughts for hours. It is difficult to imagine those who suffered traumatic brain injuries sometimes deal with this unbearable brain fog for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, doctors have found simple lifestyle changes that can help our brains function better, so we can successfully prevent our brains from turning into gelatin at the most inconvenient of times. And what better place to start than our senses? After all, our brains are home to billions of neurons and our senses have direct access to these essential cells.
“We are what we eat.” When it comes to brain fog, this phrase cannot be taken more literally. Dietitian Fatema Valikarimwala discloses in a Vogue wellness article that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid essential to regular brain functions and can directly prevent brain fog. Foods such as walnuts contain high levels of DHA and have also been proven to reduce brain inflammation, improve memory, and aid with learning. Fatty fish are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids that advance the functioning of our nervous system. Do your research and keep your eyes on nutrition labels. If you are unable to incorporate such foods into your diet, you may simply visit your local pharmacy and purchase omega-3 supplement tablets. According to Healthline, medical professionals recommend an intake of 250-500mg of omega-3 acids (DHA and EPA combined) daily.
Hyperactivity, which occurs when our body’s mechanisms struggle to fight restlessness, is a common symptom of both brain fog and ADHD. Fidgeting has become a popular therapy for those who struggle with ADHD for good reason. Fidgeting, whether it be tapping our fingers on the dining room table or playing with a Rubik’s Cube, is a proven method to channel our unnecessary energy and can help redirect brains that are losing focus. Flushing Hospital Medical Center found fidgeting requires utilization of both the right and left side of the brain (aka brain lateralization). An article from The Dana Foundation explains that this brain lateralization is essential to increased brain capacity. Fidgeting toys come in many forms, such as fidget spinners and anti-stress putties, and have proven benefits.
Scientists have long proven music can help with improving concentration and memory. But what actually happens in the brain when you listen to music? According to a Harvard University study titled “Music and the Brain,” sound waves cause vibrations that turn into electrical signals upon entering the brain. After reaching the brain stem, these signals are relayed throughout different parts of the brain, stimulating them, and activating the entire body. By testing which type of music works for you, you can take advantage of the incredible power of sensory nerves to stimulate our brains whenever we feel them turning rapidly into unfathomable mush. Specifically, the amygdala and hippocampus must become activated in order for us to listen to music. As a byproduct, we are stimulating the parts of our brain that deal with emotions and memories. Not only will listening to music help us get a stronger grasp on our emotional tendencies, but will improve our ability to concentrate and retain information.
Essential oils can be potentially life-changing when trying to prevent brain fog from hindering your daily activities. Let’s follow the impact lavender leaves upon our brains just moments after inhalation. According to the Sonoma Lavender Company, the aromatic scent of lavender enters our brain’s limbic system, which is directly related to our ability to focus. This is an excellent solution since forgetfulness is one of the main characteristics brain fog experiencers claim to suffer. When experiencing brain fog, we often enter into a flight-or-fight state of mind as our abilities to concentrate and communicate diminish, and we seek relief from the fruitless situation. According to the Mind Body Green Health blog, lavender oil can ease our nervous systems into a “parasympathetic rest-and-digest state.” In other words, we would be able to comprehend the information we receive and communicate our responses with less trouble. To reap the benefits of these helpful oils, which include many others such as peppermint and frankincense, you can participate in essential oil massage, use essential oil body washes or oils, or invest in essential oil scent diffusers.
For many of us, sight is the most unforgettable of our five senses. Fortunately, simple lifestyle changes to release pressure on our eyes can help reduce the impact of brain fog on our bodies. According to a Harvard Medical School study presented in the renowned Wellness Workdays blog, those who participated in electronic reading at night experienced reduced sleepiness, melatonin levels, and morning alertness, all factors that characterize brain fog. Scientists conclude that blue light exposure before bed contributes directly to foggy and tired behavior the following day. Therefore, those who suffer from brain fog would largely benefit from either limiting their nightly screen time or investing in blue light blocking glasses. Furthermore, practicing the 20-20-20 rule can help reduce eyestrain, lack of focus, and mental obscurity. According to the Wellness Workdays blog, the rule consists of taking “a break from your screen every 20 minutes or so to stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.” This will naturally reduce your blue light exposure and limit eyestrain. After all, protecting our vision promotes neuroplasticity, which is “the brain’s ability to form new neural connections through growth and reorganization,” according to the wellness blog.
Brain fog, although it is not an official neurological condition, is an obstructive symptom of many conditions, including ADHD, concussion, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Our senses have direct access to our brain’s behavior through the process of neuroplasticity. With a few meaningful lifestyle changes, we are able to regain control of our concentration, mental clarity, and communicative functions.
Aanika Parikh is a high school junior who is very passionate about health care and the medical sciences. She is also interested in combating public health inequities and plans to pursue a career as a medical doctor in the future. As an avid writer, Aanika uses her skills to advocate for health-related improvements.