How Do You Deal with Brain Fog?

16 Dec, 2022 | 6 min

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Last summer, I was driving in the south of Spain with the 3 children sitting at the back. We were on the motorway, in an unfamiliar location. GPS was on. I thought I had things managed and under control but I was wrong.

Kids started shouting at each other and fighting for something ridiculous as always. I was totally not in control of the situation and I missed the exit of the highway twice. We spent 90 minutes in the car instead of 45 minutes. I lost it many times by shouting, blackmailing and being the mother I hate to be. I was completely drained mentally and physically. I was feeling guilt, shame and a desire to flee.I felt like crying and screaming. It seems small but it ended up big. I was awfulizing. I knew I could do better than this.

This was brain fog at its fullest.

I believe that brain fog is real. We know that stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and poor food can contribute to it, especially in the first months of the birth of a child. We also know that the term “matrescence” explains a phase where a woman becomes a mother and with this phase comes the hormonal, physical and mental changes attached to it. Clearly, we do not talk about it enough before we have children. Despite the overwhelming joy that having a newborn can bring, with it come a lot of those unpleasant realities.

There are so many other examples: a client told me, “I have a Phd and I am terrified to go back to work as I feel like I have forgotten the simple things such as using Excel”. She was not joking, this is exactly how she felt at that time. Of course, she had not really forgotten how to use Excel. It is more the feeling of novelty even if it is something we were familiar with that surprises us. When we return back to work, there is this feeling of FFT (freakin’ first time) that Brene Brown talks about. The awkwardness of starting again, the discomfort of feeling like a novice, an imposter. “The only way to get to the other side of the discomfort at being new is to push right through the middle “Brene says. This is true and can take us slowly to where we want to go.

This is one way to deal with brain fog: keeping at it, moving through the discomfort and putting yourself out there.

There are other ways that I found myself very useful. At the time I type, the kids are soon to be 7y old and 5y old twins and those are ideas that have helped me and some of my clients to date:

1 – Make sure you practice doing things without the mental load of the kids being around. I know it is an obvious one however when we are about to go back to work we tend to have a new baby or kids around whilst preparing for it. Especially if now we are working from home. It might be a good idea to find a co-working space, a cafe, a library, anything that removes you from the home context. You can practice going to work without the kids, practice taking 2-3 hours of the day to look after yourself and work related tasks. If you can do it progressively before returning back to work, I found that it helps everyone get used to the fact that you will not be present the whole day.

2 – When working from home, create physical boundaries. Create a sign/ a board that you will hang on the door to ask people not to disturb you. This will give you peace of mind that you will not get disturbed. It is important to realize that this sign needs to come with a disclaimer. Whether you need to inform the nanny, your husband or remove the door bell for that period of time, allow yourself not to be disturbed during that time.

3 – The brain fog is more easily managed when you plan your priorities early. Working on where you want to focus on in this quarter in you professional life and creating an action plan around it helps. Also, checking every week on the progress and what can be postponed/deleted will create momentum. Sundays are the best days to check your weekly schedule so that if you have over booked yourself, you might change things around.

Despite those 3 tips, I still forget the Festive jumper day, to book for the flu vaccination or organize the school trip snacks. The thing is, brain fog is real not just early on but throughout the years. It is very much linked to how you deal with the overwhelm, if you are feeling stressed or anxious. This is usually a sign to slow down because you might be missing out on what is actually important to you.

Practicalities that have helped me are around:

1 – sharing a calendar with my husband so that he sees the important events coming from school (iCal)

2 – delegating to the nanny some tasks such as reminding me of the main events / after school activities that they need to attend to;

3 – what has also helped me concretely is letting myself say no to certain things that were too overwhelming. For instance, if there are 3 birthdays the same week-end, not attending them all, asking for another mother to help.

I have also said no to end of year cards and this has given me a huge relief during that crazy month of December. The question for me was “Who am I doing this for”? Taking the pictures on time, having them delivered, organized, the writing, the stamps. Is this really making me or the person receiving it happy? At the end of the day, I think the real difference is actually to send a card outside of the season, to find time to communicate to the list of people you want to send the card to. My intention is to keep in touch with the people that truly matter to you and not to “show off” your family.

I might go back to doing those cards when the kids are older, it is not a goodbye forever I believe.

Creating a village around me has been tremendously helpful. The people around me have been very important when it comes to taking the kids to birthdays or during afternoons when a work emergency may have come up. I wrote a post on it, check here how I created my village.

In any case, I want to emphasize that we will experience brain fog especially when we are taking on a lot more than what we can handle, when we can’t or are unable to delegate as much as we would like and when our support system isn’t there. The important thing to ask yourself is:

What can I postpone? What can I schedule for later and what can I actually plan so that I make time for it?

Let me know your thoughts and if you have some techniques/tools you use to help you manage brain fog better.

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