A look at ‘brain fog’ and its impact on employees

While “brain fog” isn’t a clinical condition, it feels like forgetfulness, slow thinking and difficulty concentrating.

It happens to everyone at some point and can often impact productivity at work. Some common causes of brain fog include stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, hormonal changes from pregnancy or andropause/menopause, an unhealthy diet, vitamin B12 deficiency, chemotherapy and side-effects from some medications. Certain health conditions, such as depression, diabetes, migraines and thyroid problems, can also have an affect.

Read: Wellness tips for motivating apathetic employees

By taking the following steps, employers can play a role in helping employees avoid or clear brain fog:

1. Encourage movement. The brain is often described as being like a muscle. It needs to be exercised for better performance. Research shows that moving the body can improve cognitive function. Encouraging employees to take the stairs or hosting walking meetings can result in greater productivity.

2. Get rid of clutter. Clutter can create long-term, low-level anxiety and is often a source of distraction. Get rid of clutter at the office and off employees’ desks with periodic clean up and clear out days.

3. Reduce stress. By addressing any systemic causes of stress in the workplace and offering stress management and resilience training, employers can reduce errors and workplace accidents that may be the result of brain fog. Excess stress can cloud and exhaust your employees’ brains, making it more difficult for them to focus, concentrate and process thoughts clearly.

4. Choose healthy catering. Refrain from bringing a box of donuts to your next meeting. Food that is too high in sugar will slow your staff down, affecting their concentration and productivity.

5. Check for chemical exposures. Conduct regular air quality tests to ensure there are no airborne toxins that may be contributing to brain fog. Ensure employees who work with chemical substances like cleaners or who are exposed to moulds, pesticides or exhaust fumes wear protective clothing and face masks.

Read: Number of working Canadians requiring time off for disability rising

The good news is brain fog is usually not a reason for concern. But there are some strategies to share with employees to help reduce it and improve concentration.

Get more sleep. Concentrating and maintaining attention at work is demanding, especially when deprived of sleep. Suggest employees follow a regular wind-down routine before turning off the lights for the night. This should include putting down electronic devices an hour before sleep. Screens emit blue light that interferes with the body’s ability to produce the snooze-promoting hormone melatonin.

Stay active. Exercise keeps us sharp, increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain, improving sleep and lowering the risk of health problems that can cloud thinking. Experts suggest 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week.

Follow a Mediterranean-like diet. Studies show that adults who eat fish, fruits and veggies, nuts, beans, whole grains and olive oil score better on memory and attention tests than those who eat less well. Salmon is rich in vitamin B12, which is required for nerve function, and the omega-3 fatty acids in fish may improve attention and processing speed in people with mild cognitive impairment. Antioxidant-rich produce like legumes and berries also support brain fitness.

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Add protein at every meal. Carb-heavy meals and snacks can cause energy crashes, blocking the activity of alerting neurons in the brain. Instead, opt for high-protein foods, which contain amino acids that stimulate these neurons. Employers can ask food service vendors to ensure B12-rich foods and proteins are on the daily menu in the cafeteria and when catering workplace meals.

Hydrate. Drinking water throughout the day keeps blood flowing to the brain and prevents dehydration. Being dehydrated by just two per cent can reduce mental function, memory creation and concentration.

Sniff or diffuse aromatics. Many essential oils help break through brain fog. Rosemary essential oil can boost performance on mental math tasks. Grapefruit oils help reduce mental fatigue. Sandalwood is known for its effect on brain health, mood and emotional wellness. If the workplace is scent-free, perhaps employees can use aromatics at home or in the car instead of at their desks.