Last Updated on November 25, 2022 by Editorial Staff
By Rachel Lankester, Mutton Club Editor
Adapted from Rachel’s book – Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond.
Brain fog is an issue for many women in peri/menopause, often made worse by fear and stress. When we find ourselves forgetting things or getting a bit muddled and we don’t know why, our first thought can be that it’s early onset Alzheimer’s. But it usually isn’t!
There is such fear of dementia, particularly in the West, that many women fear this is what’s happening to them when they can’t remember the word they need. Shame kicks in too making everything worse. That’s another reason to raise awareness about this common menopause issue.
I wonder if you’ve had this experience? Experiencing it at work can be especially alarming. But fear not! When our hormones start fluctuating, they affect many things, including our ability to think as clearly as before. And getting stressed about it will add to any confusion!
Hopefully, post menopause, this will settle down. In fact post menopause, you get a brain upgrade and will hopefully find yourself more able to focus than ever before. Check out Dr Louann Brizendine on my podcast talking about How Women’s Brains Get Stronger And Better With Age.
But during the perimenopause years, we need to sort our hormonal balance as much as we can and develop coping strategies for when we suffer some brain fog. See the section at the bottom on Hormonal Balance for the quick guide to hormonal balance. That will give your brain and body the best chance of thriving through menopause.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that if you’re suffering from insomnia due to hormonal fluctuations, you’re also likely to suffer from foggy brain. Make sure you’re getting enough good, deep sleep. Click here for tips on how to get good sleep in midlife.
If brain fog is still an issue, consider coping strategies like a bit of humor to take away the anxiety. Try not to take it too seriously; we all forget things. And certainly don’t feel shame about it! For most of us, forgetfulness won’t indicate a deeper issue, but if you’re especially worried or have a family history of brain issues, do get yourself checked out by a doctor.
Sleep, stress, nutrition, and exercise will all have an impact on brain fog. Alcohol, which has an inflammatory effect on the body and brain, may not help if you enjoy a tipple. It can negatively impact sleep too. Beating Brain Fog: Your 30-Day Plan to Think Faster, Sharper, Better by Dr. Sabina Brennan has lots more research-based tips if you’re struggling.
I sometimes get a bit muddled still, but I think I’ve always been a bit like that. If you try not to let it upset you, it will have less impact. If you fear brain fog is impacting your performance at work, consider talking about it with a manager if that’s possible.
If you have a good relationship with colleagues, perhaps you can tell them brain fog is just something that happens. It all helps raise awareness. Ask them to help you with a forgotten word and move swiftly on. Not being able to remember something or feeling a bit muddled doesn’t make you any less of the highly capable woman you’ve always been.
Click here for 7 top tips for how to look after your brain, a written summary of my podcast with Susan Saunders, co-author of The Age-Well Project and author of The Age Well Plan.
I’ve written extensively elsewhere about how to achieve better overall hormonal balance. Here’s the quick guide.
1. Balance your blood sugar and sort out your diet. Fluctuations in your blood sugar levels are going to exacerbate the hormonal fluctuations of perimenopause so helping your body out with the right food and not putting in under extra stress makes sense. Stress can be external or what we create in our bodies with how we live, making them think they need to go into fight or flight mode by causing our blood sugar levels to be imbalanced. This happens either because we haven’t eaten when we should have, and blood sugar has dropped, or we’ve consumed the wrong thing that makes our blood sugar level spike. For example, caffeine, alcohol, sugar and refined foods can all cause our blood sugar to spike and then plummet when their effects wears off. Natural plant-based phytoestrogens in the form of flaxseed or soya are also great for balancing out hormonal fluctuations. Jackie Lynch’s book The Happy Menopause is a brilliant guide to nutrition in menopause.
2. It’s expensive, but eat organic if you can for all food types. Pesticides used in agriculture are known to impact our hormones negatively as well as generally not being very good for you. Certain fruit and vegetables have higher proportions of pesticide residues on them than others. So some you don’t need to worry about so much if they’re not organic and others you may want to avoid unless organic. I’m still grappling with this but have printed out the lists of the worst offenders for reference. You can get these lists for the UK at Pesticide Action Network or in the US at the EWG.
3. Consider also what toxins are in your home environment and whether you can cut back on those. Household cleaning products are full of chemicals, some of which are thought to interfere with hormones. Personal products like deodorant, moisturizers, shampoos etc. often come laden with potentially suspect ingredients (there’s still controversy about parabens) – can you identify everything in the ingredients list of your favorite product?
4. Try to lower your stress or improve how you deal with it. Hormone fluctuations are exacerbated by stress and stress makes brain fog much worse. Reduce levels of stress in your life, maybe adopt a meditation practice or do some restorative yoga. Both of these will help you lower stress levels overall and potentially reduce menopause symptoms, especially the anxiety that seems to affect many of us around this time.
5. Up your exercise. As we age we need more exercise not less and many women swear by exercise to help them manage menopause symptoms. Exercise helps manage stress which helps with brain fog. Click here to learn why lifting weights becomes so important as we age.
You may also like How To Deal With Perimenopause Anxiety and Menopause Depression – Why It Happens And What Helps
Rachel Lankester is the founder of Magnificent Midlife, author, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, iNews, The Sunday Express, The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age. Get her book Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond.