Fibromyalgia is a set of symptoms characterized by widespread pain, but the disorder brings with it a signature symptom known as fibro fog. Fibro fog affects cognitive function, leading to feelings of exhaustion and mental cloudiness, even after a full night’s sleep. Researchers still aren’t sure about the causes or biological underpinnings of fibromyalgia itself, let alone one of its symptoms, but fibro fog is nevertheless a very real problem experienced with the disease. Here’s what you should know, and how to manage this classic symptom of fibromyalgia.
What is fibro fog?
Fibro fog gained its name from the general feeling of mental confusion or inability to focus it imposes on those experiencing it. Along with it may come immobilizing exhaustion. This isn’t the type of fatigue that’s alleviated by a nap or sound night’s sleep. To the contrary, people with fibro fog often feel this way despite a full night’s rest. You can’t sleep fibro fog off because it stems from workings deep inside the brain.
Fibro fog makes it difficult to move through the day, concentrate on things that need to get done, or corral the energy necessary for work, school, or life tasks. It makes carrying on with normal life incredibly difficult. People who need sharp minds for their jobs may suddenly have trouble completing detailed assignments, according to the National Fibromyalgia Research Association (NFRA).
Episodes of this fogginess feeling may come intermittently. It can last anywhere from several hours up to several weeks or possibly the entire duration of a fibromyalgia flare, NFRA says.
What causes fibro fog?
While researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes fibro fog, this is an area of hot research and scientists have several hypotheses. One theory is that fibro fog is caused by a mix of depression and sleep deprivation, but studies so far haven’t found that to be true, reports Arthritis Today.
Another possible cause could be a lack of oxygen. Brain scans of those with fibromyalgia have revealed that some parts of patients’ brains receive insufficient amounts of the life-giving element. The same faulty nervous system firings that may play a role in causing fibromyalgia could also impact blood vessels in the brain, ultimately leading to fibro fog, according to Arthritis Today.
Yet another theory centers on the idea that chronic pain itself damages the brain, which may lead to fibro fog. A type of brain scan has found chronic pain sufferers tend to display excess activity in a part of the brain linked to emotion. This region is essentially always on, wearing out associated neurons and causing unbalanced brain chemistry, according to Arthritis Today.
What are the best ways to manage fibro fog?
Living with fibro fog can be challenging, but not impossible. Finding a few key anchors and strategies can help you reduce your pain, increase your own abilities, and improve your overall quality of life. There are some specific ways to manage the fog. Try some of the recommendations below to find what works for you.
1. Limit caffeine intake
Some people may be tempted to chain drink coffee in an attempt to caffeinate their way through the day. Ultimately, this causes more harm than good. First, caffeine is a diuretic, which could lead to dehydration, especially when drank in large quantities.
Second, you may have the misfortune of drinking too much coffee late in the day, making it difficult to sleep, exacerbating the seemingly endless mental fog you’re already in. Copious amounts of coffee could also lead to an energetic roller coaster marked by highs and lows throughout the day.
Skip the coffee and drink water instead, which helps the body function at its maximum potential. Staying well-hydrated could also help you minimize fatigue.
2. Create lists and written reminders
Navigating through life without mental clarity can be frustrating and confusing. Reduce the amount of information you must remember by writing everything down.
Consider investing in a good planner complete with a calendar and plenty of space for writing lists of appointments, to-dos, and other things you must remember. If you’re technology-savvy, you may want to use the calendar application in your cell phone or an app like Remember the Milk. Phones also typically have functions that allow you to enter tasks and even set reminder alerts.
Even simple things can be made easier with technology. Put dinner in the oven for 30 minutes? Ask your phone to remind you to take it out. This way, you have a little helper and don’t need to rely so much on your foggy brain. You might also consider setting a monthly cell phone reminder to pay your bills, and pay them all at once or as they come in, whichever you find easier.
3. Manage stress
This is easier said than done, but stress may worsen fibro fog and pain. Practices like breathing deeply and visualizing peaceful images like the ocean or a forest can greatly help manage stress.
Take a few minutes every day, or even several times a day, to lie down in a quiet place and regroup your thoughts. Focus on your breath and let all outside stimuli go. You may even consider creating a special corner or room in your house that’s relaxing for you with a comfortable chair or floor pillows and perhaps some flowers or other ornaments, but that’s generally free of clutter and conducive to relaxation. A Zen space.
Living life through the lens of fibro fog can itself be stressful and make you feel like you’ve lost something valuable. It’s difficult, but try to take it all in stride, perhaps seeking help from a support group either in person or online.
4. Adjust your expectations
Although you probably wish you were functioning at 110%, the reality is that you’re not. Be kind to yourself and expect less. Simplify your life to conserve energy, prioritize so that you do the most important things and spend time with the most important people first.
Also, consider this change in perspective: you’re always functioning at 100%. It’s just that some days 100% looks a little differently than others. Do the best you can today and let the rest go.
5. Exercise, safely
Exercise is incredibly healthy, both for your body and mind. This one may be hard for you to fathom in a fatigued state, but exercise often helps people feel better. Start with low to moderate exercise when you move into a new program, and work extensively with your doctor to find an activity level that’s best for you.
Start slowly and build up to more moderate levels of activity over time. Most importantly, understand your limitations each and every day. Once you find an exercise program that works for you, it can decrease anxiety and depression, improve circulation, and help you stay functional.
Try a yoga class or bike ride. Perhaps do the elliptical at the gym or take a walk. Do something where you control the pace and amount of exertion, but getting the blood flowing will help you feel better and could alleviate the troublesome symptoms of fibro fog. Working out also helps to relieve stress.
6. Keep your brain in tip-top shape
Changes in cognition can be scary, but fortunately there are some options for working those brain pathways and keeping your mind in good shape.
Crossword puzzles and other games can challenge the brain and also help keep it in good shape. Engage with things and creative projects that excite you. During low pain days, you can try painting or coloring to give your brain a creative outlet.
7. Take a proactive approach to your treatment
Get involved in your treatment plan by becoming a part of your healthcare team. Ask questions. Research different treatment options. Be willing to make decisions specific to your needs. This also may mean joining fibromyalgia support groups or organizations.
Rather than becoming overwhelmed, getting involved will help you feel less like a patient and more like a person.
8. Set goals
Decide what’s most important to you by setting specific goals for improvement and priorities to guide you when fibro fog flares up. Your pain and other symptoms may be different every day, so make sure to monitor your own abilities and make allowances for them on that day.
By looking past the daily fibro fog and pain and to a larger goal, however, you can better cope with your daily symptoms. You may not be able to do everything that you did before. However, there are many low intensity activities and hobbies that can fulfill those same needs. These may include photography, dancing, gardening, or writing.
9. Use self-care to reduce other symptoms
Find time for self-care. This may mean using hot and cold therapy to help reduce pain. Try hot patches, freezer packs, heating creams, or cooling gels.
Sleep aids, such as body pillows or electric blankets, can also help you maintain better quality of sleep. Beyond these, find tools that help you minimize pain around the home. This may include recliners, shoe sole inserts, braces, shower seats, or lumbar support pillows.
10. Share your emotions and learn from others
Getting support from family members and friends may simply mean finding the courage to ask for it. You have the right to ask for help, find alternative ways of doing things, and share your feelings with those close to you.
Support groups can also provide another level of support and empathy from others with fibromyalgia. Lastly, look online for blogs and websites that talk about fibromyalgia. Websites with resources for pain management are available, but there are also personal blogs by others suffering from fibromyalgia, such as Felicia Fibro. Knowing that others struggle with fibro fog and other symptoms can help you feel less alone.
What other strategies do you use to live a full life with fibro fog? What has helped you find relief? Need advanced help? Talk to a pain specialist today!