No matter where you are on your wellness journey, whether you're a seasoned yogi or just ran your first 5k, one thing remains true: Clearing the mind isn't easy. If you've ever tried meditating—or anything remotely meditative, like a long run or sitting down to write—you're familiar with watching your to-do list unfurl, seeing thoughts buzz by begging to be tended to, even experiencing an unprecedented amount of itches on your face as you start to transition from your outer world to the inner one. The mind will do almost anything to prevent you from settling into yourself, at least at first.
For most of us, the truth is that our inner landscapes don't get the attention they deserve because our lives have infinite appealing distractions. But spending time with yourself is one of the best ways to feel centered and less anxious about what's going on around you. Plus, stress has been shown to cause inflammation, which we know is the root cause of many diseases.
It doesn't have to be meditation, by the way: It can be mindful walking, doing something repetitive like knitting, flowing through asana—really anything that quiets the mind for you. So we curated the crème de la crème of tips from experts who have figured out ways to quiet the mind efficiently, fusing science and pleasure in a way that makes accessing the quiet mind more enticing.
1. Cat/cow pose.
If you have only three minutes in the morning to dedicate to your yoga practice, this simple exercise is the one I recommend most to eliminate brain fog and fatigue—two of the most common symptoms of thyroid disorders and hormone imbalances.
The movement of cat-cow, known as spinal flexion, increases the circulation of the spinal fluid. This contributes to greater mental clarity, according to Kundalini yoga, because all 26 vertebrae receive stimulation and all the body's energy centers get a wake-up call.
—Fern Olivia, when asked about the single best yoga pose to beat brain fog
2. Get your inflammation levels tested.
Inflammation is not inherently bad, in fact, it's a necessary part of your immune system. We need inflammation to fight off infection and to heal—we would all be goners without a healthy inflammatory response. But as with everything else in the body, it's all about balance! Too much inflammation in the body can cause your protective blood-brain barrier (BBB) to be more permeable, leading to brain inflammation. This neuro-inflammation is sometimes called "leaky brain syndrome," and this inflammatory oxidative stress (OS) in the hypothalamus of the brain is the underlying cause of brain fog.
I run several different labs to assess where my patients' inflammation levels are:
- TH1/TH2/TH17-dominance test
- Leaky-gut labs
- Blood-brain barrier labs
- Methylation genetic labs
These labs will tell you what you're up against; now let's do something about inflammation.
—Will Cole, functional medicine expert, on how to get to the bottom of brain fog
3. Take an activated B vitamin.
Almost 40 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin B12, which can result in difficulties with fatigue, memory, mental fogginess, and even depressed mood. Vitamin B12 helps with normal functioning of the nervous system, including the brain. People with higher levels of vitamin B12 seem to have less brain shrinkage as they get older.
Taking vitamin B12 when you are deficient can be helpful to address memory, mental clarity, overall energy, and depressed mood. However, if you are not deficient in vitamin B12 (a blood test will tell you), it may not be as helpful.
—Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo on supplements that boost mental health
4. Try intermittent fasting.
A group of Canadian scientists recently studied the brain activity of fruit flies and found that acute fasting directly influences the stability of neuronal circuits, a type of wiring that dictates the flow of information in the brain and nervous system. According to their paper, the cellular stress and lack of nutrition catalyzed by fasting blocks the synaptic activity of neurons that normally occurs in the brain, which essentially means that the brain slows down.
And although a brain "slowing down" sounds undesirable generally speaking, it may actually be beneficial for brain health. In fact, overactive synaptic activity has been associated with diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other degenerative diseases. So in a way, when we slow down our brain activity, it's possible that we are protecting the organ by allowing it to recharge.
Results also showed an increase in ketone bodies due to fasting, which are compounds known to be neuroprotective, essentially guarding brain cells against degenerating to the point of disease. The ketogenic (low-carb and high-fat) diet has been used since the 1920s as an extremely effective treatment for epilepsy, even though the mechanism by which it works was mostly unknown.
—Gretchen Lidicker, associate health editor at mbg, reporting on intermittent fasting and its metabolic effects
5. Waft rosemary essential oil.
One can't discuss banishing brain fog without mentioning rosemary. This is a go-to oil to support memory and mental exhaustion, and the vibrant and oxide-rich smell can snap you into the present moment. It has a penchant for clearing the mind and alleviating mental fatigue. Inhalation has been shown to improve speed and accuracy on cognitive tasks, making rosemary the ultimate brain-boosting oil.
How-To: Make a roll-on blend for work by adding 6 drops rosemary oil, 3 drops sweet basil oil, and 2 drops peppermint oil into an ounce of sunflower oil.
—Leigh Winters on essential oils to boost energy and mental clarity
6. Reset your gut.
Try a seven-day detox that includes removing inflammatory brain foods like gluten, dairy, and processed foods. This is enough time to lift the fog from your brain. Don't be afraid of the word detox and temporarily removing your favorite foods from your diet. Our bodies are detoxing every day. This is just a revved-up version focusing on whole foods with balanced portions of lean protein, leafy greens, and healthy fats.
—Dr. Tiffany Lester on holistic remedies for forgetfulness
7. Run through this nutritionist's go-to checklist.
I discover the cause of brain fog and match it with the appropriate solution by running through a series of questions:
- Did I not sleep well? Then I take a nap.
- Have I been working nonstop? Then I take a break for an hour.
- Did I eat a carb-heavy lunch? Then I remind myself not to do that again and get a green tea.
- Am I overwhelmed? Then I do a Kundalini kriya called "Breath of Fire" to energize the brain.
- Have I not eaten? Then I'll get a simple snack like an apple.
Brain fogginess can also be the result of an underactive thyroid and low progesterone levels. If the symptoms persist, investigate these imbalances as possible contributors.
—Dana James on her own mind-clearing process