You know how you always rolled your eyes when your parents would told you, “The older you get the faster time goes!” Well, months have gone by, and then years, and in what seems like no time at all, I’m suddenly finding myself at my final semester of college. What a trip it’s been! And certainly a challenging one at that. There are, of course, the many usual struggles every college student must face. However, being a college student with Hashimotos can bring it’s own unique challenges to the mix. If you happen to have read “My Story,” you may remember me mentioning how brain fog was one of my biggest symptoms with my autoimmune disease. So what exactly is brain fog? If you are reading this and you have Hashimotos, you know exactly what it is. If you don’t, you might think it somewhat melodramatic to devote an entire article to my struggles with it. But here’s the thing: Brain fog is really no joke.
PREPARE FOR THE SCIENCE:
Even from the earliest stages of life, scientist’s have found a strong correlation between thyroid health and brain health. For example, if a mother has hypothyroid while pregnant, the chances of her having a child with brain retardation and brain development issues go up. Additionally, if the child is born with a low thyroid hormone, they can often experience problems with learning language as well as suffer with memory problems. For adults, problems are just as serious. The thyroid affects so many major functions of the brain, in fact, T3 and T4 are involved in the neurogenesis, neuronal migration, axonal and dendritic growth, mylenation and more. (If you just skimmed over those words, or read and didn’t have an idea of what they are, just know that they are important. 😉 Haha!) Anyway, as you can see thyroid function has a big impact on the brain. Really, a more accurate way to describe brain fog is brain inflammation. The reason your brain reacts the way it does and gives you those “brain fog” symptoms, is because your brain is literally inflamed. The cells responsible for this are called “microglia.” They are the very cells responsible for causing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular disease and more. They can more descriptively be explained as a bunch of angry little Pacmans (pacmen?) in your brain. They are really easily upset, particularly by inflammation caused by your autoimmune disease. So when your brain starts experiencing inflammation, and your thyroid isn’t doing his job of calming down these cells with hormones correctly, the little microglia Pacmans get angry and go crazy eating away at your brain tissue. Not a good thing!
So, as you can see, it’s no joke. And if anyone doubts you when you explain your struggles with brain fog, just recite that back to them! Haha!
So back to the story. As you can imagine, extreme brain fog and college make a perfectly loathsome pair. So how did I do it? Well, with lots of trial and error. But through the process, I developed some tips and techniques that have literally got me through college. Wanna hear them? Lets go!
- First of all, make sure you are doing your part at keeping down your inflammation. You can’t have Hashimotos, eat junk food, and hope to function like everyone else. (It’s a cruel world, I know.) If you’re eating a food that makes you feel sick, chances are its causing inflammation in your body and your brain and therefore attributing to your brain fog. Try keeping a food journal to help you keep track of what you are eating and the symptoms it is giving you. Or, if you’re up for it, try the AIP diet! I have been on it for a few months, and have literally never seen as many improvements in my symptoms. If you’re struggling, it’s worth a shot, right?
- Drink LOTS of water. This is true for everybody, not just Hashimotos sufferers, but being hydrated has a major effect on the brain, as does being dehydrated. You really can’t afford to be both Hashimotos AND dehydrated. You’re going to feel totally out of commission! If I’m doing homework, especially if I have a bigger assignment, I drink A TON of water to make sure my brain is functioning at full capacity. I’ve noticed that drinking water actually works so much better than drinking coffee as far as energy levels and focus go. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF H2O!
- Prioratize your sleep. I know, this can be SO challenging to do in college. But whether you like to stay up because your a social butterfly, or because you HAVE to get stuff done, it really isn’t an ideal strategy. I know, sometimes friends need to talk in the late hours of the night, and sometimes there just was NO time to get an assignment done during the day, but really try your upmost to become a master at time management so that you can plan yourself a good sleep schedule. It’s going to make a big difference in your brain function and everything else!
- Try to plan your homework for the time of the day you feel most alert. If you are a morning person, rise and grind with that assignment! If you are a night person, have no shame in those late night assignments. (Just make sure you’re getting enough sleep!) Maybe you feel best mid-day, so have some lunch while you study. You get it!
- Find out what WORKS for you when your studying. Is it in your room by your self? Is it in a study group? For me personally, I CANNOT study well with people. I also don’t do so hot in my dorm for whatever reason, (though I’m often forced too!) But if I have something that I HAVE to get done, I go to a coffee shop. I don’t know why, but the odd mix of the influx of people that I don’t feel obligated to talk to or acknowledge because my headphones are in just works for me. (Also, #IntrovertProblems, am I right?) Find out what works for you–and stick to it!
- If you’re brain is particularly foggy, or if you don’t yet know what works best for you: try everything. Recite what you’re studying to yourself, put it to music, make flashcards, have somebody read it to you, etc. You’ll have more chance of remembering if you’re involving more of your brain in the study process!
- Fuel your mind with a good snack! A good mix of carbs and protein would be a good idea! Make sure you take a break for actual meals as well. Nobody is going to function at full capacity while hungry!
- Try to de-stress yourself as much as you can. Stress will make it harder to focus. Of course, there’s only so much stress you can eliminate while studying, (haha!) but there are some things you can change. If you are worried about all the things you have to do, make a to do list and get all those stressful thoughts on paper. If you’re overwhelmed with weight of your assignment, break it up into smaller, more achievable, goals–the more stressed you are the smaller the goals should be! If you are stressed about your environment, make sure you make a clean space before you start studying! It will help declutter your mind to declutter your space. You get the picture!
- Find new perspectives to learn from. If you can find a youtube video on what you are studying, it can help a lot to hear the concepts explained in a new way! ALSO, if you have a friend who really understands what you’re studying, ask them to explain it to you. If you don’t know of anybody, hire a tutor!
- Learn how to be a PRO at time management. You’re going to have to schedule in buffer time for those days that just aren’t happening. In order to do that, you need to learn to really discipline yourself with your time management and learn how to REALLY use time to your advantage.
- BONUS: I haven’t yet tried this but I plan on giving it a go this semester! I read that if you smell something while you are studying, then again before your test, it will trigger you memory! Make sure it’s a scent that’s more uncommon in your day-to-day life; i.e. a perfume/cologne you don’t normally wear, a scented lotion, coffee beans, etc. OR, another option is to chew a certain gum while you’re studying, then again before the test. Super excited to try this one! Let me know if you try it and it works for you! 😉
- ABOVE ALL, remember that there is no schedule to life that all must follow. We get put under so much pressure to have all these different things completed by different ages, when the truth is that one of the real beauties in life lies in the unique journeys of unique individuals. Don’t get caught up in following somebody else’s life schedule. And don’t trip if you don’t complete something in the timeline you wanted! Even if you have to take an extra semester or two to finish school, it’s not that big of a deal. You’re on your own journey, and what matters is that you do your best! Don’t worry about the rest.
Do you have any tips or tricks that work for you when you’re having “one of those days?” Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear what has worked for you! 🙂