One of the most troubling symptoms of hypothyroidism is what we like to call brain fog. It's often the first symptom people notice before discovering they have a thyroid imbalance. Brain fog manifests as a feeling of haziness, inability to connect or concentrate, and difficulty remembering important information.
Not only is brain fog annoying, but it can be embarrassing when these symptoms become apparent to others. It can be especially impactful when brain fog affects our work performance in the form of forgetting to respond to an important email, submit projects in a timely fashion, or when we lose our train of thought talking to a coworker.
While managing brain fog is part of the overall care strategy for hypothyroidism with the help of a specialized thyroid doctor, there are a few tricks readily available that can help combat brain fog at work.
Take a Movement Break
Many of us spend far too many hours sitting in front of a computer screen during our working hours. Sedentary lifestyles are a huge contributor to cognitive decline. Exercise on the other hand increases oxygen to the brain and helps create something called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which helps new neurons grow and protects older ones. You don’t want to miss out on that kind of brain-boosting superpower, so in addition to getting regular exercise, try to take frequent movement breaks during the day. Here are a few ideas.
- Set a timer to remind yourself to stand up and stretch for a few moments.
- When you talk on the phone, walk back and forth.
- Chatty coworker stops by your workspace? Stand up when you’re ready to end the conversation and walk with them back to their desk to get a few paces in.
- Every hour, do ten squats, ten wall push-ups, or ten jumping jacks.
- Incorporate walking as part of your lunch break.
Brain fog makes it hard to stay focused on important tasks. We can easily flit from one thing to another only to find hours have passed and we haven’t actually gotten anything accomplished.
The Pomodoro Technique helps us to focus on one thing at a time by structuring work into short sprints. The basic pattern is that you chose a task, one task to work on uninterrupted for 20-25 minutes. Set a timer, and when the timer goes off, you take a break (see Movement Break above) and do something that’s not work-related for a few minutes. You can move, meditate, draw, even check your social media. After you have completed four pomodoros, or four work sprints, you take a longer break.
Setting your intention to focus on one task and knowing you are working against the clock is a powerful technique that helps you stay focused. The built-in breaks are a good motivator to help you stay on task. The longer ones give you a ‘brain break’ that helps you process and assimilate new information.
This technique incorporates both movement and breath and comes from the yoga tradition. It is excellent for clearing away brain fog and beating the afternoon slump.
- Stand with your feet hip distance apart with your arms loosely at your sides.
- Inhale and raise your arms above your head.
- Exhale and drop your arms down gently as you come into a loose forward bend with your head down. Make sure your knees are bent and allow your arms to swing freely.
- If possible as you exhale and drop down, let the air out while making a, “Hah,” sound. (No shame in this game!)
- Repeat the motion and the sound several times.
The energizing breath increases blood circulation. The swinging motion of the arms is very soothing, and releasing the breath with a forceful sound is invigorating.
Declutter Your Workspace
Since brain fog makes concentrating on tasks difficult, it makes sense to remove visual distractions that battle for our attention. Even the most organized among us allow clutter to creep into our workspaces, and looking at clutter increases stress, which is the last thing you need if you’re contending with brain fog. So, schedule regular decluttering sessions to keep those distractions at bay. Keep it short so decluttering itself doesn’t become a huge stressor. Try fifteen minutes a week and see what happens.
Organizing your desk not your favorite activity? Buddy up with a friend and help each other. It’s amazing how another set of eyes can make you see things differently. Plus, doing it with a friend can be more enjoyable than facing the task alone. Once you have your space less cluttered, you can more readily incorporate other organizational support systems like calendars, schedules, and even sticky notes to help keep you on track.
There are lots of other ways to address the issue of brain fog that accompanies hypothyroidism. Most importantly, talk with your thyroid doctor to be sure you are getting the right thyroid medication and the right dosage. Proper nutrition and limiting unhealthy food choices can also go a long way towards addressing brain fog. Work with a thyroid specialist to help get you on the right track.