Menopausal brain fog
A recent survey of women in the West Midlands police force found that around 80% felt that menopausal symptoms interfered with their ability to work. The three most common symptoms were memory problems, fatigue and anxiety.
Hormones play an important role in shaping the structure of the brain and, at times of hormonal change - puberty, pregnancy, menopause and even our monthly cycles - our brains undergo something of an overhaul.
Reassuringly, women's health expert Christine Northrup, M.D. claims, 'The reality is, our brains continue to create new cells for life. After menopause we just move more into the right hemisphere of our brains.' But, as with any restructure, perimenopausal thinking can be disrupted.
A study directed by Dr G A Greendale, published in the National Library of Medicine, followed 2,362 perimenopausal women for four years. While they did observe declines in memory and learning ability, they found that these rebounded post-menopause, "suggesting that menopause transition-related cognitive difficulties may be time-limited." In an interview, she said, "During the menopause transition, a woman's brain may feel a little off, a little muddy, but when the transition passes, the clouds clear and the fog lifts. Sometimes all a woman needs to know is that this too shall pass." In the meantime, there is plenty you can do to enhance your mental clarity, recall and focus.
Be a pleasure seeker
In her book, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause, Christine Northrup, M.D. champions the gas, nitric oxide, which the body produces when we experience pleasure. Laughter, restorative exercise like yoga, massage, positive thinking and orgasms have all been shown to boost the production of nitric oxide, which can decline as we age. She says: "With enough nitric oxide in your body, your blood vessel walls relax allowing more life-supporting oxygen and other nutrients to flood your heart, brain and internal organs."
Drink plenty of water
The brain is 80% water so it makes sense to stay hydrated. Drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day, not only assists with brain functioning but also helps to flush out toxins.
Eat good fats
The other 20% of your brain is made up of good fats. So, including foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids promotes good brain health as well as supporting the production of those much-needed hormones. Don't fall into the trap of following a low-fat diet, oily fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds contain healthy fats that are essential to a midlife diet.
Get more sleep
Many women report feeling constantly exhausted around perimenopause. As menopause is really just puberty in reverse, that's hardly surprising. Think of your own teenage years or any teenager you know, often their coping strategy is to sleep all day!
Sadly, that's not an option for many of us but consider adapting your routine to ensure you get extra time in bed during this transition. Make sure you create a sleep routine, which gives you plenty of time to wind down, to make sleeping easier.
If night sweats or insomnia keep you awake, allow yourself to simply rest at this time. Our brains do a lot of clearing and processing while we rest.
The benefits of meditation are widely extolled and, at midlife, can provide your brain with valuable respite and reduce the impact of stress as well as improving mood, concentration and clarity. Take time to explore different types of meditation to find one that works for you and remember, even a couple of minutes of regular meditation will make a difference
Take regular breaks
Like any system, the brain can't make updates and changes while in use - and, let's face it, the mind of a woman at midlife is pretty much constantly in use. As a result, our thinking can become sluggish and clogged.
Finding regular opportunities to pause throughout your day can provide valuable processing time to clear the random, unimportant and temporary data which may be bogging you down and exacerbating brain fog.
Stress activates the fight or flight response. The Relaxation Response is the lesser-known counterpart to the Fight or Flight Response. The Fight or Flight response rallies the body to fuel a rapid retreat or a physical attack - rarely the most appropriate response in a world where your stressor is more likely to be a long to do list than a raging tiger. It's lesser-known counterpart, the Relaxation Response, utilises those valuable resources for general repairs and 'house-keeping' in the body.
At a time when your body and brain are in need of a little TLC, it is essential that we learn to manage stress and facilitate healing and restoration as frequently as possible.
With the distinct lack of energy that many of us feel around menopause, it can be easy to fall into an even more sedentary lifestyle. However, exercise can increase oxygen flow, boost energy and improve circulation, all of which are known to enhance cognitive ability.
Y.K. Chang's study, published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, suggests that moderate to intense exercise may increase cognitive flexibility and working memory, and high-intensity exercise could increase information processing speed.
Avoid insulin spikes and dips
If you find yourself with flagging energy and focus, perhaps mid-morning or afternoon, you might be experiencing fluctuating blood sugar levels. Instead of grabbing a coffee or sugary snack, try a healthier option. Nutritionists recommend that snacks and meals should contain both protein and fibre to avoid the insulin spikes and dips that can derail the brain and bring on the fog.
Be a single tasker
Have you ever experienced the spinning vortex of the loading icon on your computer? The interminable wait for your page to open? With too many tabs open, your computer starts to slow down and become clogged. You too are coping with more input than ever before. Like open windows in your browser, your attention might well be split among many different things at the same time. Working on one thing at a time can help to restore the clarity and calm you need.
The hypnotic state can provide relaxation, clarity and enhanced capacity for learning. As a result, hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis can be valuable resources for tackling brain fog.
By reprogramming your brain, adjusting your mind-set, managing stress, improving sleep and facilitating changes to old habits and behaviours, hypnotherapy can be a fantastic tool to support brain function at this time.