I didn’t have a very productive week because I couldn’t focus on a single task and went from this to that.  I didn’t accomplish much in my business or in my personal life.  A week like this reminded me of my perimenopause when it was so hard to concentrate on a task and I would just dabble in so many things all day long, not seeming to accomplish much.

Lack of concentration and difficulty remembering things and words are sometimes colloquially called “brain fog” and commonly reported by women experiencing the hormonal changes of midlife. It’s the “whatyoumaycallit” phase of life! During a bus ride the woman sitting next to me actually that she couldn’t remember the name of the liquid inside her Tim Horton’s cup!

Cognitive menopause symptoms take many women by surprise because, unfortunately, most women aren’t aware or prepared for the challenges of the menopause transition, including brain fog. Some women erroneously think it’s dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, which can be a frightening prospect.

I know a woman in the UK who thought for years she had something wrong with her brain despite doctors not being able to diagnose her with anything. It turned out she had extreme brain fog during perimenopause (the years leading up to menopause) and she ended up quitting her job before she could get proper support. That shouldn’t happen to any women. We need to raise awareness and provide education about menopause!

Brain fog is common, not pleasant, and sometimes rather embarrassing, but it’s usually temporary. Most women get their brains back a few years after menopause (just to remind you, menopause is determined when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months). I did, a bit, anyway!

When we can’t concentrate everything is harder to do.

I was studying for my Menopause Practitioner Certification and I would finish reading one paragraph and have no idea of what I had just read. I had to read the same paragraph over and over…. My mind was going all over the place and it was very hard to concentrate — brain fog! It’s much better now that I am in postmenopause. I did pass the exam the first time but it took some planning and techniques to study efficiently.

Seven tips that may help you get things done when your brain is foggy, when it’s hard to concentrate, and when memory sabotages your best intentions:

1.Organize

As Marie Kondo says in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Reorganizing and Decluttering, get rid of clutter in your house, in your office, and on your desk so your brain can be calm. This may be a good time for it when you’re following the recommendations to stay home to slow the spread of the virus. Take this opportunity and declutter your environment.

2.Make lists

You may have been one of those people who could remember everything but can’t anymore, and that’s hard to accept. However, if you do accept it as a temporary change and adapt, you’ll be less frustrated and less forgetful! Make lists – memory aids. I make lists for everything that can be listed and then I forget where my lists are!

Now I have a notebook where I write my lists (and more – see next tip). On the top of the page I describe what’s on the page:  To Do list, Weekly Chores, People To Call, Groceries, and so on to make it easy to find the lists.

3.Take notes

My memory is so unreliable that during meetings or phone calls I takes notes of the important things discussed. That way I can pay full attention during the meeting instead of trying to memorize everything that’s being said. Later I read my notes and relax – I know that all the important stuff is there. If you think it’s odd to take notes in a meeting or need to explain, tell people (and yourself) that you do it to ensure you don’t miss any important detail – it makes you look very responsible and professional, I think.

4.Don’t multitask

Multitasking used to be highly prized until the brain specialists discovered that it is the most toxic thing you can do for your brain.

We all know but ignore the fact that we can only do one thing well at a time. If we try to do more than one then we don’t do any of them as well as we could.

What happens when you are in the middle of something, start something else, and then return to the same task? Your brain needs to catch up, remember where it was before the distraction, and that takes times, it slows you down. It wastes your time. You are more efficient and faster if you do one thing at a time. Your concentration is lost when you move between tasks. Research shows that task-switching actually burns more calories and fatigues your brain. For just one week, try focusing on one task at a time, and see what effect it has on your ability to concentrate and on your productivity. It’s hard not to multitask but it’s worth stopping.

5.Disconnect

Before the pandemic I used to work with my phone silenced and 2 metres away from me. If someone called I could hear the vibration but my notifications were off. Paying attention to your phone while you’re trying to do some real task is like multitasking. And really, do you have to answer every email, chat, and message right away? Most likely you don’t, so get to it later, finish what you’re doing first. It’s more productive and less tiring.

6.Feed, water, and exercise your brain

Dr Lisa Mosconi, a Neuroscientist & Neuro-Nutritionist, wrote a book called Brain Food.  I’ve picked it to be the WHIM (Women’s Health In Midlife) Network book for our September Book Club meeting. It’s about foods that are good for our brain and the importance of drinking a LOT of water. She says that by the time we feel thirsty our brain is parched. Remember to drink a glass of water every hour to keep your brain hydrated and productive.

Note: You can pre-order copies of her newest book, The XX Brain, on her website.

Being sedentary and spending a lot of time sitting negatively affects your mental faculties. Your brain needs exercise to increase circulation and oxygenation. Your brain can’t function without oxygen and sugar. Get up and move around the office, the house, or outside every few hours. It’s good for your body and your brain. Add 30–45 minutes of brisk walking, three times a week, to your routine to help fend off the mental wear and tear.

7.Challenge your brain

Seeking new experiences, learning new skills, new languages, music, etc. is good for the brain. Without brain stimulation and deep concentration the connections between neurons (brain cells) shrink or disappear, causing brain fog. It’s a case of “use it or lose it”. Don’t allow your brain to get comfortable for too long, challenge it.

Fight brain dullness with stimulating activities rather than TV and media feeds. “Neglect of intense learning leads plasticity systems to waste away,” says Norman Doidge in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself. This is the second book title I’ve recommended in this newsletter! Hint hint!

Read while you physically distance yourself from others during the pandemic.

Remember to isolate yourself physically but socially! Connect virtually!

Need help? There’s help, I can help you.  Contact me here.

 Teresa Isabel Dias is a pharmacist and a menopause practitioner (NCMP) certified by the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). She lives in Toronto and all her services are available online-101 consultations, live workshops, and webinars. Sign up for her free biweekly MenopausED Newsletter www.menopaused.org to learn more about menopause and women’s health.

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