Migraine and Brain Fog Tips and Tricks
Difficulty concentrating and brain fog are big problems for many migraineurs, both as symptoms of their migraine attacks as well as symptoms of potential co-morbidities. (See Part 1) Compensating is a difficult task when you’re brain foggy, but I had to learn some tips and tricks to make my life manageable. My brain fog is severe, and because I also have other health issues that have caused a more permanent form of the problem, I had no choice but to admit the problem and do something about it.
Frequent migraine comorbidities
Specific migraine co-morbidities often include brain fog and concentration problems. It’s important to rule them out or treat them if they are playing a part in your concentration problems. Some of these may include:
- Autoimmune disorders such as Lupus, Sjogrens, MS, Graves’ Disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Metabolic disorders or anemia
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Lyme Disease
- Chronic Pain and inflammation
- Vitamin Deficiencies (especially B12)
- Medication side effects
- Sleep disorders
Tips and TricksThese are some things I have used to help me compensate for concentration problems:
- Recognize your brain fog as a potential sign that a migraine is starting. Use it to treat the migraine attack early so affects on the rest of your life might be minimized. Ask others to help you by telling you if they see you struggling more than usual. This will help many migraineurs learn to identify the symptoms even earlier. Often aborting the migraine will result in less cognitive disability for a shorter duration.
- Give yourself plenty of time. This means don’t procrastinate. Start a job as soon as you can so you have additional time to re-do it… repeatedly if necessary, and it often will be. When I write an article, I always come back to it another day to proofread it and make sure it sounds the way I intended. When I have this option, I am much less stressed and more relaxed, making my overall quality of life better.
- Plan ahead. Setting my clock 5 or 10 minutes ahead of time can fool me to getting things done faster so I am not late. I have multiple twitter accounts and schedule tweets to help me remember things before they’re due when I’m away from home. I bought a smart phone so the alarms and calendars remind me in plenty of time (early) to get things done. I set out my clothes etc the night before, so I don’t have to think so hard the next morning. I schedule my day, often writing it down to be sure nothing is forgotten.
- Don’t be afraid to re-do things. This can be frustrating and make you feel like you have failed. I look at it now as a part of the process because I always have to re-do things. Rarely do they come out right the first try. Before a blog is published, it will often go through 5 or 6 re-writes until I’m satisfied it makes sense, then I listen to my readers to be sure it is making sense to them. If not, I’m always ready to edit something until it works.
- Ask for help. If something doesn’t make sense right away, ask someone to help you clarify it. If you must make an excuse, tell them “I am so tired this isn’t making sense to me. Can you help me?” Being tired IS often part of the problem and admitting it will be more understandable to others than telling them you can’t concentrate. If you’re writing something, ask for a friend to proofread it before you send it off for publication. Ask for a friend to help you remember things. My hubs is my “person” and calls every morning to make sure I’m okay and don’t need any help or reminders.
- Make lists. Keep a notebook, smart phone or something handy that will allow you to make lists for everything you do. Always keep the notebook or list in the same place so it won’t be misplaced and forgotten. Be sure and check things off as you do them. This not only helps you see what needs to be done next, but helps in giving a sense of accomplishment (no failure here!) when you see all the things marked off.
- When reading: If you are able, make the print on your computer or device as big as possible so reading is comfortable. Bigger fonts make for easier reading and surprisingly better comprehension. If your book is print, use a highlighter. If there is a place you’re having trouble with, highlighting it often makes it easier to understand.
- Problem solving: Have a notebook ready and illustrate the problem to yourself if necessary. Sometimes abstract thoughts can be made much easier to understand when they are put into pictures. Literally “draw it out” for yourself, or have someone else do it for you.
- Math: Carry a calculator at all times. Talk to yourself out loud as you try to figure out the problem and the answer. This places the information in multiple parts of your brain for easier retrieval and comprehension.
- Listening: Carry a micro-recorder and USE IT. Notes are great, but if it’s recorded, you can replay it over and over and over again until you understand what is being said. Always end a conversation by reiterating (repeating back) the main points and saying something like: “Can I contact you if I think of something else?” Or “Is there anything else I should know?”
- Speaking: If possible, plan ahead and list or outline what you plan to say, then use the notes to help you along. If that’s not possible, simply stating a short outline before you go into detail later in the conversation offers the listener prompts that can help you if you forget something along the way.
- Leave yourself open to your imperfections. Don’t expect to be able to concentrate as you once did. Acceptance is the first step toward fixing the problem.
- Educate family and friends. Hopefully they will understand that brain fog is a symptom of your migraine disease and help you deal with its consequences. Once they understand brain fog, simply telling them “It’s a really brain foggy day” will often help them understand if you are not yourself before you have to make other excuses they may not understand.
- Maintain a sense of humor. If you can laugh at the absurdity of having to re-read a sentence 5 times before understanding it, or making someone draw out an idea in pictures, then play with the oddity of it all and yours and everyone else’s stress levels will be greatly decreased. Laughter is great for increasing endorphins (natural pain killing chemicals in the brain) so never pass up a good giggle when the opportunity presents itself.
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