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Battling mommy brain: 6 strategies to boost brain health

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by Lisa Byrne

Lisa is the bestselling author of Replenish and founder of WellGrounded Life. She's got a big-hearted vision of a world where moms are fully equipped to live calm, healthy, and vibrant lives. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three kids, and 110 pound yellow lab.

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?

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Comments

  1. What a brilliant post – Full of practical goodness… For me it is all about sleep, get off my computer and get to bed!!! It really isn’t my kids keeping me up late. I need to be much more disciplined in my blogging strategy… And I need to rest in the afternoon when they rest, just lie on the bed and read a story with them. It isn’t actually the time to catch up on emails, otherwise they revive but I don’t!!!
    .-= se7en´s last blog ..Se7en try out Snickerdoodles in Se7en Steps… =-.

  2. what I am battling is enough sleep also. With a toddler that wakes up very often at night and screams for attention it is extremely hard to get a minimum of 4hrs uninterrupted sleep each night.
    .-= Dominique´s last blog ..Tackled- Step to better work/home balance =-.

  3. I have found that when I am getting enough good fats it really helps me, especially when I’m taking my cod liver oil. I did a post on it here:

    http://www.nourishingdays.com/?p=1945

    I have also found that since becoming more organized I keep my sanity a little bit better.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Chia Seeds: facts, thoughts, questions =-.

  4. Lisa, I didn’t realize you had a third baby on the way – congratulations! (Sorry I missed that somehow.)

    I’m learning a lot right now about moving to a more whole foods diet and it excites me! Thankful to learn to new ways to care for my family and make them healthier!

    Jamie
    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..At Home =-.

    • Thanks so much Jamie– It isn’t you, I haven’t “announced” it in the blog world yet– In all honesty some days I *almost* forget I am pregnant while chasing around the two I have :)
      .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Five Things to Share =-.

  5. Great advice for anyone! I like the idea of going through your old calendar to pencil in things like doctors’ appointments and oil changes. I’m really concentrating on drinking lots of water these days. That’s helping my brain a lot!
    .-= Amy Reads Good Books´s last blog ..Just Like Family =-.

  6. Those are great tips! I know how much better I feel after a good run, just can’t seem to get it done lately though…
    .-= Mrs. Smith´s last blog ..If you build it; it will come! =-.

  7. Great tips to combat Swiss cheese brain. Once when I was early pregnant (and it turned out to be ectopic, so the hormones were just crazy) I was on a phone call for an organization I volunteered with. We were trying to figure out some details and the lady asked for my area code. Well, my mind could just not put together what an area code was. The organization was divided into areas and I didn’t think we had a code for it. It was several days, in the middle of the night when I realized she was asking for the area code for my phone #! How embarrassing – and now I’ve just admitted it on the world wide web ;-)
    .-= Tiffany´s last blog ..Expect Some Wonkiness =-.

  8. I can relate to Mommy Brain issues. Last week, I was so convinced that Tuesday was Wednesday that I loaded my 4 little ones up in the van and drove 20 minutes away from home for an appointment that was actually on the real Wednesday. It wasn’t until I got to the building and saw no one was there that I realized what happened. Thanks for the helpful tips!
    .-= Stacie @ newmommyhelp.net´s last blog ..How To Make Books Come Alive With Your Toddler =-.

  9. This was a great article especially since I just finished up reading about teaching Speed Reading with Kids. That technique focused on putting our brain to use in ways that we could never imagine. Children reading 5,000 WPM is very feasible because they are retraining their brain, but it’s really hard for adults to re-learn because our brain has atrophied a bit (my word, not their quote. ;) How fun that I literally just finished reading that and seconds later found your post.
    Off to get this atrophied brain in gear!!
    .-= Jen@Balancing Beauty and Bedlam´s last blog ..Creative Party Ideas – Coffee Bar =-.

  10. The worst mommy brain episode was when I was pregnant with my second child I was convinced I left my purse in the grocery store. I was frantically asking the clerks about it and to my horror, the purse was on my arm the whole time. Scary :-(

    • Carrie: That makes me giggle– I can just completely see myself doing the same thing, with such sincere *panic* over losing something…It is so good to go easy and find the humor in it too!
      .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Five Things to Share =-.

  11. OMIGOSH….you have no idea how happy I was to read this post! I really thought I was loosing it….early dimensia or something. I am so easily distracted and forgetful, surely there was something amiss….couldn’t be my two young needy children! I’ve put water on the stove to boil, then wandered away. My kids will ask me for a drink, and end up in the laundry room folding clothes. Recently, we were fostering a stray dog and I let him out and then left for town. Forgot all about him until we were looking for him in the house a couple hours later. I’m going to try the cod liver oil thing for starters…

  12. Lisa!

    What a timely post–just yesterday I posted on Facebook that I’d need massive amounts of gingko biloba to counteract & reverse my atrophied mommy brain. I feel like I have ADD and Alzheimer’s at once.

    I use many of the suggestions you mention above and have further simplified my life by wearing a “uniform”–I buy five pairs of jeans and five or so tops and wear them every day. I also wear the same makeup colors every day. Boring? Maybe. Simple? YES!

    Thank you so much for the great tips! I’m off to bookmark your blog.

    Heather
    .-= Heather Allard´s last blog ..Lessons Learned From Michael Vick and How You Can Repair Your Brand Image =-.

  13. avatar
    smilinggreenmom says:

    YAY FOR ME! I am not alone :) I really thought I had some issues or something. Last week, I stopped at Wendy’s and asked if they had the Whopper Wed (Burger King folks). DUH.

    Our family has made the best switch ever on our foods with wholefoods- eliminating processed, white sugar and high fructose corn syrup as much as possible! Of course we allow for treats, but the majority of our diet is fruits, veggies and meat. We eat whole wheat everything and take our daily vitamins and Vidazorb probiotic.

    These are the things I am doing well at…but I have so far to go yet! I need to get into a better exercise routine and take more quiet time for myself. I am pretty frazzled and have anxiety issues…so I know this would truly help my “brain fog” :) Thanks for the great advice! smilinggreenmom ***tweet me!

  14. This is an awesome article with wonderful tips I plan to focus on…especially the keep learning something new, and the adult bedtime routine. I had to send it to my mom too…..great for older mommy brains as well!
    .-= Sandee´s last blog ..Unplugged Part 3: Other’s Ideas from Simple Mom =-.

    • PS…After reading the funny stories, I have to share my goofy momma brain story. I have two sons, and one daughter. When they were 9,7 and 4 respectively, they went to two different schools. My daughter went to a half day preschool and my sons to their elementary school, on the morning drop off I stopped by Starbucks to get my coffee, told the oldest to be in charge and wait in the car for my quick dash…parked right out front of the doors, so I could see the whole time. Needless to say, he came in for some reason, then my 7 yr old followed. Not too happy I marched them back to the car, to find my daughter GONE! They often play hide from mommy in the back seat, so I searched, then started freaking…Sent the boys back into Starbucks, started running around the parking lot, getting very loud and upset….. a bunch of young folks standing outside Starbucks were watching the brainless mommy get freaked out and were becoming concerned, wanting to help me search.

      I froze…and sheepishly herded the boys in the car, when my brain realized, we had already dropped her off at preschool before stopping at Starbucks!! gulp…. pass the blueberries please!
      .-= Sandee´s last blog ..Unplugged Part 3: Other’s Ideas from Simple Mom =-.

  15. I always claimed my baby brain was due to being pregnant and/or breastfeeding… Well, I’ve got nothing to blame it on now, and my brain still hasn’t come back to me! I really need to take some of your tips to heart. The eating one especially. During the day, I definitely don’t eat regularly or balanced. I know this would help my memory and keep my emotional state more even. The nighttime routine one would probably help me too. Thanks for the info and tips!
    .-= PS~Erin´s last blog ..Attempting To Be Intentional =-.

  16. Great column, Lisa! Such great truths. I am so terrible about the exercise thing. And it actually stems from not going to bed at a decent hour. I need to make some small changes to get on track to better bedtimes and early morning exercise. Thanks for the inspiration!
    .-= Megan at Simple Kids´s last blog ..What We’re Reading Wednesday: August 19th =-.

  17. I, sadly, can relate…I use an ipod for my job and when I was pregnant with my first, I lost 2 ipods…that’s embarassing AND expensive!
    .-= Shayla´s last blog ..Help me… I’m hyperventilating!! =-.

  18. I just posted a long story about forgetting to pick up my son from school the other day but my mommy brain forgot to put my name and email address in the “leave a comment” fields and now it’s gone.

    *sigh*

  19. I just finished reading How God Changes your Brain, I liked reading the science behind how prayer and meditation changed our brains. It also lists other brain boosting activities. My favorite was the benefits of yawning!
    .-= shelle´s last blog ..monster feet =-.

  20. Great ideas! This one is bookmarked for return visits lest the mommy brain drain takes over! Thanks!!
    .-= heidi´s last blog ..Re-Ignite Date Night! (#1) =-.

  21. If you haven’t seen this free video on what superfoods are and how to use, you’ve gotta check it out. Just thought I would pass it along! http://www.wellnesswithrose.com/77superfoods/freereport.html

  22. Great suggestions!! I’m attempting to put together a year’s worth of activities that are developmentally appropriate for babies and intellectually stimulating for mommies. I was sitting in a “mommy and me” baby class one day with my son, literally watching him grow smarter and feeling myself slowly losing my mind. I figured that there has to be a way that we can bond with our babies while simultaneously enriching our own minds. I also think it’s really important for children to observe their parents as learners. As a teacher, I’m constantly modeling thinking strategies with my students and I want to do the same for my son. I really enjoyed reading all of your “momnesia” moments! I’ve had my share!!
    .-= sharpmama´s last blog ..Week 3, Day 3: Snuggle Time =-.

  23. God I hope Mommy Brain is all I have. I keep telling my husband that I think I have dementia or Alzheimers. (sigh)
    .-= Flyin’ By Faith´s last blog ..Our First Day of School… =-.

  24. That explains why not a single person is raving about watch and because of this what you should implement as we speak.

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