You know the feeling. It’s Monday morning at work and you feel like you’re trudging through mud. You’re drowsy, forgetful, and mentally stumbling on tasks that should be easy. Or maybe every day at 3 p.m., you suddenly have the attention span of a sleepy goldfish.
These are prime examples of brain fog. You might chalk it up to your full schedule, or maybe not enough sleep. All you can do is blunder through it until the smoke clears. Right?
Wrong. Constant brain fog isn’t just run-of-the-mill tiredness from juggling the pressures of life. It’s often a sign that you’re feeling bored, disengaged, or spread too thin—all of which are silent drains on your energy. “People who feel disengaged report feeling slowed down and heavy, as if they are walking through molasses rather than air,” says Andrew Shatté, meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer.
Getting a handle on brain fog is critical to being more effective and less stressed. Not only that, but prolonged fogginess may signal that you’re headed for burnout, which can really take you down. “When it comes to stress, ‘blah’ is our worst enemy,” adds Shatté.
Use these steps to nip brain fog in the bud as soon as the clouds roll in. Or better yet, to prevent it from happening in the first place.
1. Identify the drudge
Let’s face it, some of life’s to-do’s aren’t much fun. But routine tasks and chores keep our lives running, so we can’t buck ‘em. To dial down the feeling of drudgery, identify when fog shows up for you. Does your brain tend to go blank when sorting laundry? Do you put off bill-paying because you just can’t muster the brainpower?
In that moment, stop what you’re doing and rate the task from a 1 to 10 on the drudge scale. Try connecting in a new way to any tasks that rate 5 or above. (Can you see laundry as a way of demonstrating love for your family? Paying bills as a way of keeping your wellbeing secure?) “Remind yourself that even the drudgery of our chores—washing clothes, making meals, cleaning the house—are all contributing to the health and safety of ourselves and our children,” says Shatté.
2. Go from sprinkler to firehose
You might want to do everything—and do it yourself—but spreading yourself too thin is a common cause of brain fog. It scatters your attention and weakens your focus, so you’re not able to do even one thing well. Get your focus back by finding out what you can hand off (can a colleague help with some of the load? Can you enlist your kids to share in the household chores?). Then hone in on what’s most important to you.
3. Find ways to re-engage
A lack of excitement about what you do can also gum up your mental gears. Think about it: Do you feel foggy and lethargic when you work on a prized project, or when you dive into in your favorite hobby? Probably not!
Re-engage with your work by connecting to your contribution. “Join the dots between what you do at work and how that helps your organization,” says Shatté. “Often our contribution at work gets lost in the cut and thrust of the day, but keep it top of mind.”
What does your work bring to the good of your organization and your colleagues? Maybe you have a knack for motivating others in your department to do their best work. Or perhaps your work is meaningful because it improves the lives of those who buy the company’s products.
“One of the biggest keys to stress management is being engaged; having a sense of mission and purpose,” says Shatté. Once you can reconnect to that, the fog will start to lift.