For some people, lupus and chronic pain can lead to neurological symptoms, meaning those that affect your brain and nervous system, including brain fog. Brain fog is a general term that can refer to having difficulty thinking clearly and trouble with focus, memory, word finding, logic, or problem solving. Most people will experience brain fog at some point in their lives, for example, after a poor night's sleep or during periods of elevated stress. Some people with lupus have reported brain fog that is worse during disease flares or persists between flares. Brain fog may be associated with other symptoms, such as:
- Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or distressed
- Depression or grief
- The spotlight effect (discussed below)
- Pain experience
- Medication effects
- Poor sleep and fatigue
- Increased substance use
- Decreased activity
- Expectancy effects
Being diagnosed with lupus is stressful and unpredictable. Feelings of uncertainty about symptoms makes it difficult to focus, plan and get things done. Runaway thoughts and worries also make it harder to sleep, which is important for all brain functions including memory and concentration.
As it gets harder and harder to concentrate and get things done, it's natural to focus your attention "spotlight" on your lupus symptoms and the ways you are different from before getting sick. But a greater focus on your symptoms means there is less focus on the things that are most important to you. While it can take some practice, shifting your spotlight back to the things you value will help you feel like you are living a productive and purposeful life. In time, these feelings can improve your mood, physical functioning, and ability to think clearly. Another helpful strategy is to understand that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all connected. Treating yourself kindly can help you recover since your energy isn't being spent on unhelpful thoughts, like wishing you could "be normal."
Seeing a Doctor for Brain Fog
If you are experiencing cognitive change, this could be a reason to see your doctor, particularly if the change is impacting your daily functioning. Your doctor will likely consider a range of factors that may be contributing to your problems. While lupus and chronic pain may be a source of brain fog, others include poor sleep, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal changes, stress, prescription medications, and other illnesses like anemia.
No matter the cause of brain fog, there are some strategies that can help you manage your symptoms. For example, it may be useful to start carrying a notebook with you to write things down that you want to remember later. Using your phone or calendar to set reminders and organize your day may also be helpful. Making sure to schedule values-based activities every day to keep your spotlight focused on what is important and meaningful, despite symptoms. And practicing self-compassion, to decrease stress that we can unintentionally place on ourselves, which will free up "bandwidth" to better focus and concentrate. Listed below, there are self-care strategies that can help prevent declines in memory and brain function.
Self-Care for Brain Fog
- Cognitive & Speech Rehab
- Goal Setting
- Managing Emotions
- Physical Activity
- Tai Chi