#058 Brain Fog, Menopause & Business
I’m still buzzing after the Menopause Summit on Saturday- a real live event where I got to connect with so many leaders in the industry.
It was organised by Wellness Warrior Catherine O’Keeffe and my notebook is bursting with takeaways.
One of the many speakers that stood out for me was Dr Sabina Brennan, a health psychologist and neuroscientist who spoke about Brain Fog.
In this episode, I share a lot of Sabina’s key points as well as some of my own experiences working with those going through menopause.
You can read about her here, make sure you check out the book Beating Brain Fog:
I’ll be sharing a lot more takeaways soon as well as my brand new masterclass called the ‘5k Mind- the mindset & method for consistent 5k months’:
If you never want to miss another episode, subscribe to the show here.
Hello, you’re so welcome to today’s episode all about brain fog, menopause, and business. This is at the forefront of my mind because on the weekend I had the privilege of attending the menopause summit, an incredible event. I attended last year virtually run by the fabulous Catherine O’Keefe, who is the wellness warrior. And she is a real expert on menopause in the workplace and all things menopause and quality of life. And one of the speakers there was Dr Sabina Brennan, and she spoke about this topic of beating brain fog. And she actually has a book about it called “Beating brain fog, your 30-day plan to think faster, sharper better”. I am going to share with you some of the things that Sabina spoke about, some of my thoughts, some of the things I hear from my clients all around the area of brain fog, particularly in perimenopause and menopausal years, uh, when women are navigating, growing and scaling a business and then their brain starts to get affected.
I mean, a lot of people know about baby brain, but menopause brain is something that many don’t think about until they’re actually in it. And because there’s still this kind of taboo around talking about menopause and thanks to events like the one that I went to, the menopause summit, that taboo is definitely beginning to change. It’s being spoken about way more in the workplace and in other areas. I mean, you probably know that I’m obsessed with helping women who are running the business to navigate menopause and to make really good money, to set themselves up for a really strong financial future whilst taking incredible care of themselves. So, this brain fog is an area that really needs some of our attention. And what Sabina says in her book is that brain fog is a collection of symptoms, which give rise to loss of mental clarity or foggy thinking. When your brain fogs, your symptoms are persistent, occur regularly and interfere with the quality of your life, your relationships and your work. People affected by brain fog experience slow thinking, problems concentrating, and have difficulty focusing their attention. They may also have trouble with remembering, learning new things and can experience language issues such as difficulty finding the right word. Some people affected have difficulties navigating spaces. For example, they may misjudge distances between themselves and objects in their environment, bump into things and may describe themselves as clumsy.
I think this is a really important point that she makes, she states that brain fog is not a diagnosis disease or a disorder, rather a sign or symptom of an underlying health condition, a side effect of medication, a result of hormonal changes or the consequences of dietary issues or lifestyle choices. And she went through a few of those different health problems. It’s really become in more in the spotlight now with people experiencing long Covid. This is really important that people that have are having these symptoms, it is being taken more seriously now, whereas maybe some health conditions in the past, things like ME or chronic fatigue syndrome or things, it was very often brushed under the carpet. But long COVID is being so well documented and so recognized that very often there is things like that it is being looked at, you know, is it a post viral thing? Is there some other cause for it? A lot of medications can cause problems with brain fog, fluctuating hormones, which is what we see in menopause can be some kind of dietary deficiency. Some kind of vitamin deficiency could be there as well. So that needs to be looked at, and there can be lifestyle factors as well. Things like poor sleep, lack of exercise, lack of motivation, these can all be implicated with brain fog. As Sabina says in her book that clinicians, maybe your GP, are aware of brain fog, but generally speaking, their main concern is underlying physical or mental health condition, the hormonal imbalance, or the deficiencies that can give raise to the symptoms. Once that’s taken into accountant, they make sure there is nothing really significant underlying medical problems, they will then very often say, you need to manage that. This is something I hear from my clients quite a lot that they’ve mentioned to their doctor that having trouble concentrating, et cetera, and they’ve just done the normal range of blood tests, check their thyroid, et cetera, and then told them they need to sort it out themselves really, and that may not be helpful.
I think books like Sabina’s book is really excellent in outlining all sorts of different kind of strategies and a really holistic look at how it can be improved. So, a few things that stood out to me, just mentioning that that’s a high rate of problems with relationships, maybe increased rate of divorce due to brain fog, and one of the reasons that is because of slower processing speeds. This is something I see in business all the time, during menopause if you’re put under pressure, like maybe on a sales call or something, it can really affect you in that you just can’t make those decisions really fast. And so that also happens in relationships like with partners that they maybe say something, you can’t respond as quickly as you may be used to, and you don’t therefore express yourself in a way that would be useful. It can lead to feelings of being very dissatisfied with a relationship because you’re feeling like you’re not on the same page. Many women will say they feel like they’ve lost themselves. They feel like they don’t who they are. And this is something I hear quite often and something that I have felt myself. I’ve spoken a lot on this podcast about when I really noticed my confidence dropping and realizing that it probably started around the time of perimenopause, I had problems with visibility and with marketing. And that’s how I see brain fog sort of manifesting in women in menopause. So, there can be other things, Sabina outlined some other symptoms of it, basically saying that it’s an umbrella for all sorts of things like overwhelm, fatigue, problems with attention, problems processing thoughts, clumsiness, and spatial awareness, problems making decisions. I actually gave an example of opening the fridge and thinking, “what will we have for dinner?” and not being able to decide that, whereas it wouldn’t have been a problem maybe a couple of years beforehand. And a lot of these things you might think, well, that’s really normal, isn’t it? And yeah, maybe it is to a certain extent, but that’s things you can do to improve it. Problems with the memory, like getting a new remote control and not being able to set it up, like you would’ve been able to do in the past, struggling with that kind of thing. I can certainly relate to that one. When my son came home last weekend, I handed him my car keys. I said, please, please go change the clock, because our clocks have changed for daylight saving many weeks beforehand, but I kept forgetting when he was home to ask him to go and do it because even though I have done it before I just can’t now, I just look at all these buttons and going like, no, no, no chance at all. So please go change that. And he could show me how to do it. And possibly I could write down the steps and then have it for next time, six months’ time when they change backwards, which will probably be a really good thing for my brain, but then I would forget where I put the piece of paper, those kind of things. Languages: not being able to find the right word or not being as fluid as you possibly were in the past.
And again, these are just an umbrella of symptoms that could be attributing to brain fog. And she also said that your brain needs fuel. So, really good nutrition is an important part of it that. Our brain is only 2% of our body weight, but it uses 25% of our energy, and it’s important for our brains to learn new things, really important for our brain health. Some of the other things that came up in the discussion were the importance of avoiding multitasking. I think most of us would be aware that with multitasking, we often wear it as a badge of honour, that we can do several things at once. I used to be amazed that my husband seemed unable to multitask. If there was one day, I was trying to get the kids out to school, down to the bus and my husband was on the phone and I pointed to one of the children whose shoelaces needed some kind of attention before we ran out the door with this gang of small children. And he just pointed to the phone, and I’m just like, why can you not tie shoelaces while you’re on the phone? I think he was speaking to his mother, but I realized afterwards that he’s actually right, focusing on one thing at a time is so much better for our brains and not to be distracted by lots of different things, because you’ll pay the price with making more errors, with it taking more time. I was really relieved when Sabina mentioned about background noise and busyness being sort of contributing towards brain fog. I can’t cope with background noise anymore. I’ll walk into the house and like, maybe my husband’s got the radio on and he’s talking, I just need to turn that down. I’ll turn it off. It’s just so distracting. I’m just like, not really struggling with it, even at the event on Saturday that we were having a conversation at lunchtime in the room when we were having our lunch and there was music playing in the background. And I just said to the other women at the table, is anybody else struggling with the music? And they all just nodded their heads. One of them went an asked, could it be turned down, because we were really struggling to concentrate on what each other was saying with the music on in the background, which was really interesting because I know when I was younger that wouldn’t have bothered me at all. I wouldn’t have even noticed it, but I really struggled with it.
So, having lack of clutter is important. I love one example that Sabina gave was that even really busy wallpaper is a distraction. And I was like, yes, I’ve noticed that, that I just want clear spaces on walls. I mean, one of my top values throughout these menopausal years is spaciousness, is creating space and simplifying businesses, simplifying everything to do much better and have much better quality of life. The importance of decluttering and having an uncluttered environment is so important. And I think in our businesses what’s so important for our work is decluttering, whether it’s our laptop home screen or getting rid of things that aren’t necessary anymore. I know I often go into places like even PayPal to delete all the links that aren’t being used anymore. Just going in every week. I think like what’s one thing I can do this week and I just go in and dive into something and declutter as much as I can there declutter. I’m a great one for taking loads of screenshots of things that I want to share. And I can end up with hundreds of screenshots on my computer. So going in and just deleting all of those or if I want to save them, renaming them, putting them in the right file. And those kinds of things I really learned how to do several years ago because I just used to have all sorts of things all over the place and it was so disorganized, and it just felt chaotic. Those kinds of things really help getting organized because the brain loves patterns. Sabina was talking about like how the brain loves patterns and habits. And she explained that the brain chemistry behind that and how important it is. One of the other speakers on the day, Jerry Duffy was talking about habits. He was talking about goal setting. He asked who brushed their teeth last night and the whole audience put their hand up and said, how would you feel if you went eight weeks without brushing your teeth? And everyone’s like, oh, disgusting. Uh, so, so bad, because we’re in such a habit of that. We’ve made a habit of that. We don’t have to think about it very much. So, when we make habits out of things that are good for us, it will be so much easier. As Sabina was talking about getting organized and creating these habits and learning new things so that your brain has always been put to good use and the balance between persisting and resisting. She gave me an example of like imagine you’ve fractured your ankle and for a certain time you need to rest. And then there comes a time when it feels really uncomfortable, but you have to start walking on it and that you need to persist with that to get the healing and to get it sorted, to get it back to normal functioning. So same with the brain. So, she gave an example of that if you’re struggling to read big reams of text, and I’m a great one for line breaks, if a text is too small and too bunched together, I really struggle to read it. But if there’s line breaks between it and the font is bigger, it makes it much easier. But she said, if you’re struggling to read, just start with reading a paragraph a day to start with and build up from there, don’t expect yourself to read a whole book. She went on talk about so many different other areas around managing your hormones, around brain fog and how important they all are. She has, in her book, she’s got a whole strategy for managing brain fog, but I’d just love you to think about how maybe it is affecting you. The more that you know about brain fog and how it can be affecting you the better you’ll be able to overcome many of the symptoms of it.
I must admit, before her presentation, I was thinking like, oh, this is the normal part of menopause and that we just have to manage it. I ran a health practice for 25 years, specializing in women’s hormones. So, I know how our diet affects it and how our lifestyle can really affect the way that we feel. But I must admit that I just thought like, oh, this is part of menopause that I just need to manage. And I think to some expect, I was thinking like put up with it, but I’m realizing now that there is so much more that we can do. I know myself eating really well will make my brain fog kind of symptoms way, way less, absolutely, and I know there’s certain things like alcohol will absolutely mess with my brain. I mean, it is a neurotoxin. It is poison. So, it’s is something that I know that even a small amount of alcohol can make me feel very fuzzy, very fuzzy and lose that clarity of my brain. It’s so much clearer and so much sharper if I don’t drink any alcohol. And that’s just one thing. And one example too much sugar will definitely, have an effect as well. I know having really healthy sort of like blood sugar levels, blood glucose levels make a big difference. So really keeping down processed food and eating really good whole foods will for me, will make a lot of difference. Having really good quality fats and decreasing the really poor-quality fats I know is really beneficial to brain health. There are lots of things, plenty loads of green vegetables and a big range of different fruits and other vegetables. Definitely hydration came up an awful lot in the day. A nutritionist spoke, her name’s gone from my brain right now, but she spoke about eating your water, which I love. I’ve always loved that concept. Something I used to talk about a lot when I worked to the naturopath is eating your water. So, loads of fruits and vegetables, and I know I feel so much better when I eat loads of fruits and vegetables. So not just about drinking loads of water, but eating loads of water, so your sort of watery fruits and vegetables, having an abundance of those every day is incredibly important.
So also the other thing about the multitasking, the organization, the sort of decluttering, all of that stuff is something that we can continually work on. I have a focus each week of what I am going to make better that week. I ask myself, are there any incompletions coming up for me? So, if there might be something, maybe legal or something, for example when all the kids turned 18 or got to a certain age, maybe a will needs to be looked at, or something around having a look at a pension and seeing is there something that someone you need to speak to in that area about providing for your financial future or different things like that. I think what’s not complete at the moment what needs to be, to be dealt with or let go of, sometimes I can hold onto something in my head for a couple of years thinking, I should do that. I must do that. And then think like, really, do I have to? Maybe I’ll just let go of that. And that might be connecting with somebody or doing something I said, I’d do for somebody instead of just letting it go. So, what are you holding onto in your head? That’s why I love doing journaling every morning. I love doing a thought download and just downloading all my thoughts and then seeing what needs to be deleted. What could be delegated to somebody else? And what do I need to do? And anything needs to be done. And this is one of my biggest tips for dealing with brain fog. Anything that needs to be done is go schedule it in, open up your calendar diary, whatever I’m writing in. Okay. I need to ring the doctor about some blood test results. Okay. I have to ring the clinic between 2 and 3:30. So what day of the week am I going to do that and writing it in and making sure that it’s in my schedule for that time so that I’m not carrying it around in my head, or it’s not just on a big, huge to-do list with 500 things on there, and for me, actually having it scheduled in. One of my clients was asking on a group call the other day, what is best for managing your mind and your brain when menopausal symptoms are really strong and really feeling like not coping very well at the moment. And I said, every time you have a thought about something, write it down because our thoughts, our ideas, anything that we know we need to do very often, it won’t come when you’re sitting down in front of your laptop. It’ll very often come when you are out on a walk or in the shower, or just about to go to bed or go to sleep or something. If I’m out and about I have a little notebook and pen in my bag. I’ll often just hop on the notes on my phone, if I’m out walking and the thought comes to mind. If you tend to forget things quite soon afterwards it’s there for you and it will come back. Always know, like I just set that intention that if the thought has disappeared, that it will pop back and it does, it does pop back. But I know the more I look after myself, the more I really build self-care into every single day as a strategy, self-care as a strategy for a successful business, that the better the symptoms get and the more manageable it is, and you can have a really highly successful business, even if you have all sorts of brain fog and, and all sorts of things going on, but I’m always working to make things better and to make them more manageable.
There can be other things going on. I’m having some neurodiversity testing done next month. So that could be implicating on things. And I’ll share that with you later on. But just don’t assume that things are absolutely normal, that this is just a normal part of going through menopause, do get things checked out to start with, do get those blood tests done. And any other testing that you need done to make sure that there’s nothing underlying that it is just being fobbed off as menopausal brain fog. See what, see if there’s anything else going on and really get your, get the help and support that you need to navigate this time, because there’s so much that that can be done. And I’ll bring more to you later on about other things that I learned at the summit, and I’ll be sharing with you as well something that I have got planned around business and menopause and helping women even more in that area, because I think there’s quite a lot of work being done around menopause in the workplace and it’s way overdue. And it’s amazing that has all been done, but I think there’s a massive lack of awareness about women who are running their own businesses and how they navigate this age and stage from perimenopausal time onwards, because it can have a massive effect on visibility and showing up for your business, and that can have a massive impact on your finances. And I wrote a blog post a few years ago about how I had forgot to collect my lottery win. And that wasn’t because I had won lottery and it had expired. It was because I was hiding and not showing up and not asking for the sale, and it becomes quite significant after a while. So, there’s a lot more coming on that.
In the meantime, make sure you pop along to my website and make sure you’re signed up for the 5k mind. It’s where I’m going to talk about the mindset and method for recurring consistent 5k months in your business. It’s a great starting point. That may be your goal, or you may have much higher goals in mind, but it doesn’t really matter. It starts with this. Go to thesarahleather.com/5kmind, and you will get access to that. But thank you so much for being here. And if you want any help with anything you need do pop onto my website, you can, you can write a note to me. You can send me an email via the contact page on [email protected]/contact. You will be able to pop me a message there. I’d love to know what stood out to you. And of course, I always really welcome your rates and reviews on the podcast as well. So, if you have a minute to just go and do that and give us the star rating and say anything that you’ve loved about the podcast, I would really welcome that. I’ll be back to you really soon with a lot more from Making a Million in Menopause. Bye for now.