Oh, I couldn’t count the amount of time I must spend most days trying to find something I misplaced or retracing my steps again and again because I forgot something essential on our outings. I hate to admit it, but just when I need to be my mind sharpest is when it feels slower than ever. And the more I talk with other moms, the more I’m finding that this “Mommy Brain” phenomenon is shared by many of us.
While neuroscientists confirm it is a very real issue resulting from powerful endocrine and brain chemistry shifts, I suspect an equally likely culprit is how many things are vying for my time and attention. As we know, running a household, raising our children, and managing the needs of a typical family easily can send the sharpest of us into mental meltdown.
Here are six realistic strategies to employ that will set us up for a smoother day and strengthen our mental muscle.
1. Keep connecting.
There is a strong connection between maintaining healthy friendships and improved mental health, including memory and focus.
While we may not have the time to devote to our friendships like we once did, it’s essential to make an effort to stay connected. And while maintaining close friendships is important, it is also helpful to meet new folks as well. Even a quick three-minute chat with another woman in the grocery aisle can bolster our need for social interaction.
• Take time once a week to catch up with a girlfriend, either in person or through a phone call.
• Take a community class and meet new folks that have similar interests.
• Commit to a date night or date afternoon with your husband weekly– one-on-one time is essential for nurturing this most important relationship.
• Meet up with other moms for outings with the kids at places like the park, on a trail walk, at the farmers market, or in a kid’s activity group.
• Join a book club.
• Strike up a conversation when you are out on errands. You may be suprised at how good it feels to relate to another person, if only for a few minutes, as you wait in line, pick out the perfect avocado, or pay for your tea.
2. Move the body, strengthen the mind.
There is a direct connection between our physical bodies and our brains — the health and strength of one impacts positively the other.
Being physically active is essential to keep our minds well oxygenated and our brain connections strong. In fact, if you choose an activity where you cross over the center line of your body (imagine bending and touching your right hand to your left toe), you are strengthening the connections between the right and left hemispheres of your brain, which is very important for managing complex tasks.
• For right and left brain connectors try swimming, stretching or yoga.
* Walking is one of the simplest, most effective exercises available– and very child-friendly with a stroller.
3. Use structure.
A system for routine, everyday things can be a tremendous help for scattered minds. Once we make things routine, we can release them from being held in our mind, which clears up cluttered thoughts. Think about things you do every day, and think of ways to set up a system that removes the last-minute fluster in getting them done.
• Recharge electronics (cell phones, camera batteries) in one spot, and always return them there so that they’re ready when you need them.
• Restock diaper bags every night.
• Keep your keys, wallet, and coupons in one place near the front door (along with other things you need for most errands).
• Make a hanging space in your entry closet for your bags.
• Find a system that works for your family’s grocery shopping, meal planning and preparation.
• Repeat yearly calendars, so that you’re on top of important dates like birthdays, anniversaries, yearly checkups and car servicing.
• Repeat monthly or weekly calendars to help with recycling dates, farmer’s markets, special community events, grocery shopping, and personal care needs.
4. Brain workouts.
Once we master a new activity, be it knitting or the fox trot, our brain no longer creates new neural connections for them. Keep trying new things for brain boosting. Brain teasers, word puzzles, and logic problems are fantastic for your mind.
In fact, it might be best to learn something opposite your natural talents. If you’ve always been good at numbers, try an art class. The point is not to become an expert in your new activity. Take your children’s hand paints and create in the comfort of your own home, or sign up for a monthly quilting course — the benefit is in the process of engaging your mind in exploration.
5. Good night, sleep tight.
I know this may get a few raised eyebrows — what mom gets the sleep she really needs, right? The truth is, whether or not we get it, enough sleep is key for our health, both physical and mental.
While we can’t always help being woken in the middle of the night or early in the morning, we can help ourselves maximize the hours of shut-eye we do get. In fact, this is such an important topic I plan to write my column next month on ways to get a good night’s rest (even for tired, sleep deprived mamas!).
For now, here are some starting ideas:
• Adults, just like children, need bedtime routines. Use low lighting, soft music, quiet activity, and calming scents to create a routine that signals the end of the day and the beginning of your evening.
• How does your bedroom makes you feel? Take stimulating or anxiety-producing things out of the room where you sleep. Create a place for calm, retreat, and renewal. We often mirror internally what we experience externally.
• Know your sleep cycles. Going to bed at a time that naturally fits your circadian rhythm can help usher in deep sleep. Also, waking when you are rising naturally out of deep sleep can often lead to a more refreshed morning and day (even if that means getting up a bit earlier than you think!)
• Take advantage of rest and nap times. Naps are great for adults too, and we can really benefit and feel refreshed from an properly-timed afternoon nap.
6. Food for thought.
Photo by Jeff Kubina
There are many foods that are excellent for a healthy brain, and the following are just a handful of the big power players that have been directly linked to healthy minds.
As common sense would dictate, of course, the whole of your diet is much more important than any one food item you may add into it. So look at how you are fueling yourself overall. Are you giving your body and mind fresh, unprocessed, whole foods with an emphasis on fruits, veggies, healthy fats, nuts, and seeds? Are you drinking enough water? These are important indicators that you are nourishing a healthy brain.
• Blueberries consistently score off the charts for antioxidant load and health benefits. They are powerful anti-inflammatories that boost memory and nerve cell health. I always have a bag of frozen blueberries in my freezer and add them to pancakes, muffins, and smoothies. We even eat them straight as a frozen snack in the summer.
• Healthy fats are essential for brain health, considering 60% of your brain is composed of fat itself. Some of the best sources of healthy, brain boosting fats are nuts, wild salmon and olive oil. When it comes to these fats–don’t be shy.
• Tumeric is a spice with an active compound called curcumin. Some spices (like tumeric and cinnamon) have been shown in studies to be effective in healthy cognitive development, memory and concentration. Try encorporating spice into your meals in place of the salt.
• Cacao beans are the technical ingredient in chocolate, but before you go reaching for that Snickers bar, hear me out. Most of the time, very little, if any, cacao bean is left in candy bar chocolate. It’s important to look for chocolate that states 75% cacao content or higher. Better yet, add straight cacao beans in your diet. If you are comfortable with taking in some espresso, try this brain-fueling drink (similar to what the Aztecs used to make): mix about a tablespoon of 100% organic non-alkalized cacao powder, a bit of espresso, unsweetened almond milk, and some cinnamon together. Warm the drink for a delightful brew.
• Cruciferous veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower, have been shown in large studies (like the famous Nurse’s Health Study) to positively improve memory performance.
What was so delightful about writing this article was that every single suggestion could benefit a busy, brain-foggy mom in so many other ways than just boosting brain health. When we take time to care for our minds, we are enriching our health on many levels — and a healthy, energized, sharp-minded mama is a wonderful thing!
Do you share in the mommy-brain experience? Any funny experiences you’d like to share?