‘Fess up: How many times have you tried to read the same paragraph, only to find yourself staring at nothing, mind blank, unable to focus all the way to the end?
Foggy brain and general lack of concentration are common complaints in perimenopause and menopause. We used to be able to shut the world out for long periods and focus on the task (or tasks!) at hand, but suddenly we’re having to yank our attention back from outer space every few minutes and we’re frustrated about it.
Or we’re scared this may be a sign of worse things to come.
According to Dr. Lisa Mosconi, neuroscientist, neuro-nutritionist, and author of Brain Food, estrogen is a “master regulator.” It regulates your brain, pushing it to burn glucose to make energy. As estrogen declines in perimenopause, the brain doesn’t work as hard, so energy levels in the brain decline.
The result? “Foggy” brain, compromised short-term memory, and difficulty concentrating.
Other issues can also contribute to this concentration challenge: your sleep may not be as restful due to night sweats, anxiety, or insomnia. Maybe your life is more crowded with teenage kids, aging parents, greater responsibility at work, and shifts in your intimate relationships. Plus, when we’re feeling limp, we may not be as rigorous about healthy diet and frequent exercise, which can lead to us feeling even more de-energized and out of focus.
While dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are legitimate concerns, forgetting a few words or drifting away mid-conversation are normal occurrences in perimenopause and menopause.
According to Healthline, occasionally struggling to remember the right word or someone’s name or temporarily misplacing your keys are a normal part of aging and menopause. However, showing poor judgment or decision-making, having confusion about time and place, experiencing difficulty with visual images or depth perception, finding it hard to carry on a normal conversation, or demonstrating lasting personality changes may indicate a more serious problem and should be discussed with a doctor.
For those who have “meno-brain,” until your brain is able to adapt to your new normal in terms of estrogen levels, there are a few things you can do to minimize the impact on your work and life:
Eat your estrogens, water your brain
As Dr. Mosconi tells us, some foods have naturally occurring phytoestrogens in them which can help prop up the diminishing estrogen from our bodies. Try to include in your diet foods like flaxseeds, soy, chickpeas, sesame seeds; fruits such as peaches, strawberries, and oranges; dried fruits; veggies including yams, carrots, and kale; lentils, peas, and other legumes; herbs like turmeric and sage. And of course, feed your brain by drinking good water.
When you’re trying to get something done and you find you tend to focus on fretting about other things instead, write down the things that are bothering you. You can get to them later; you won’t forget, you’ve got them on paper. Then push the paper aside for now.
Turn off anything that tugs at your attention: TV, music, social media. Hide your phone and other distracting devices in a drawer or anther room. Put your notifications on “DND” or night mode. You really don’t need to know that you have 11 app updates or that your tires are due for a rotation right now.
Neutral white noise may help you concentrate, so consider turning on an e-thunderstorm or electric ocean waves.
Part of the problem of lack of focus is we’re constantly being taken away from the present moment. Instead of engaging in that article we’re reading, we’re thinking about dinner or paying bills or what a co-worker said to us earlier. But staying present to improve concentration is a skill we can learn and improve on, according to IQMatrix. Pause right now and look around you. If you’re in a familiar environment, is anything different, new, out of place, missing? Notice the fine details: not just the colors but also the textures; not just the sights but also the sounds.
As IQMatrix writer Adam Sicinski puts it, “One of the best ways to improve your concentration is to practice observing the details of your surroundings.”
Some of us resist making lists, fearing we may become “dependent” on them, but in fact, the simple act of writing something down is a memory aid in itself. And having a list may take some of the emotion out of the situation – if we aren’t stressing about that feeling that there’s something really important that we forgot to do, we’re better able to concentrate.
Your brain is like a muscle – it needs to practice certain skills to stay strong. You can practice focus by remembering details. IQMatrix suggests thinking about a recent event in your life. Try to remember everything you can: the weather, what you were wearing, who was with you, what was said, the sights and sounds and smells. The more detail you can pull in, the higher the level of concentration you’re “exercising.”
Remember that teacher in high school who yelled at you for doodling in algebra? Turns out, as long as you weren’t doodling in your text book, you were doing a good thing for your concentration. Even Harvard isn’t entirely sure why it works, but if you’re trying to take in a lot of information, giving your brain “permission to draw” may give it enough of a break to allow more information in. Or, if you’re a terrible doodler, you can try your hand at juggling….
Get a plant
Yeah, that’s what we thought too, but apparently it works. House (or office) plants detox the air, calm us down, and actually help us improve focus and concentration by as much as 15 percent. And you thought leafy greens were only good for eating…
If symptoms start to interfere with your life or worse, endanger your safety, it’s time to seek medical attention. A few false starts looking for the right word or being late to work because your keys were in the freezer and Sunday lunch is thawing in your purse may be frustrating, but for the most part, small, temporary lapses are normal. However, if you’re having headaches, difficulty seeing or speaking, lasting confusion, or sudden weakness, get professional help right away.
So… did you make it to the end? Congratulations! If you have concentration problems or solutions, we’d love for you to share with the Genneve community. Leave a comment below, or let us know on Facebook or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group.
*As always, the information in this blog is for educational purposes only and should never be considered a replacement for expert care by a health care professional. If you think you may be suffering serious neurological issues, please see a doctor ASAP.
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