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How I Actively Fought My Post-Burnout ‘Brain Fog’

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I would wake up not knowing where I was, thinking I was still living at home with my family and sleeping in my childhood bedroom. I would walk into the kitchen to make myself a tea only to find a steaming hot cup already standing there that I must have made 10 minutes earlier and didn’t remember. I left the stove on after cooking. I couldn’t concentrate for more than two minutes. I kept asking the same questions because I couldn’t retain any information. I forgot names. I had no idea what day it was or what I had been doing. There were times when I didn’t trust myself to leave the house alone. I felt as if I was literally losing my mind.

When I was diagnosed with burnout in 2016, I struggled with a variety of symptoms. Fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraine, depression, anxiety and panic attacks made my life incredibly difficult. But the one that personally hit me the most was my brain fog.

I’ve always been a thinker. I heavily rely on my active mind to solve all my problems and get me through life. Being smart, witty and organized are some of the qualities I think are at the core of who I am. Having brain fog wasn’t just a symptom to me. It was changing who I was.

I vividly remember sitting at the kitchen table, trying to read the local newspaper. As soon as I read a sentence, I had already forgotten it again. I was aimlessly flipping through the pages when I came across a Sudoku. And that was when I broke into tears. I had always found those number puzzles quite easy to solve. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it in my current state.

This was a turning point in my recovery. I knew I needed to change something and actively fight my brain fog. I had been resting a lot of the time because I felt my body and mind needed it. But after a while, it became detrimental to my health. Your brain is like a muscle that needs exercise. Not using it isn’t going to improve its function. So, I needed a new plan to get myself out of brain fog.

My first steps included sleeping and eating enough as well as going outside for walks. I made sure to eat regular meals to give my brain enough fuel and leaving the house got me out of the rut I was stuck in. But I needed to actively teach my brain to think and concentrate again. Online, you can find a lot of resources to train your brain and memory, but I don’t particularly enjoy those exercises. I tried meditating but that proved to be too difficult to start with. I was looking for something fun that wouldn’t feel like a therapy exercise. And that’s where my husband’s obsession with board games came into play. He loves anything that involves a lot of strategic thinking. I always found those games challenging and when my health started to decline, I stopped playing them. But when he bought a new game and was excited to try it, I didn’t want to disappoint him.

In the beginning it was tough. I forced myself to concentrate for about half an hour, but struggled to keep up with what was going on and remembering rules. Sometimes it took us an entire week to complete one game. But I was quite quickly noticing changes. The longer we played, the easier it got for me. And it was fun. I was exercising my brain as well as spending quality time with my husband. Sometimes, when I wasn’t feeling well, we chose easier options like card games or something where you basically just roll the dice. Whenever I won, it gave me a little confidence boost. A few months after starting this journey, we were playing an intense zombie apocalypse survival game. I was telling my husband what I thought our next strategic steps should be and he was thoroughly impressed. That’s when I knew my mind was starting to get back on track.

I have since incorporated more brain exercises into my daily life. I’m reading books, writing and constantly trying out new recipes in the kitchen. But I have also learned that my mind needs a healthy balance. Going on walks, painting or just having a cup of coffee and doing nothing else help me ease a loud and busy head.

I still struggle with burnout symptoms. Every day is a new challenge. But sometimes, little changes that might not even feel like you’re doing much, can make a big difference over time.

Getty Images photo via Ponomariova_Maria

Originally published: October 19, 2020
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