Before we define it, let’s describe it.
You probably experienced it yourself as a nursing assistant. Do you remember the last time you worked extra hours from the night shift and got just a few hours of sleep, only to be called in to cover the afternoon shift? You wake up, add an extra shot of espresso to get the boost you need and drag yourself to work.
At the beginning of the shift, you absent-mindedly smile at everyone you pass in the hallway, not paying attention to whether they are a coworker, acquaintance, or your best friend.
You join the patient huddle at the beginning of the shift, but absolutely nothing is registering. You desperately try to jot down points and tasks but you just can’t make sense of it. You tell yourself that you’ll catch up later, but you feel like you literally left your brain at home. You can't focus, your thoughts are cloudy, fuzzy, or worse, blank. You have difficulty finding solutions to simple problems, like forgetting what switch turns off which light.
What is brain fog?
According to Gayatri Devi, MD, a psychiatrist and neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, brain fog happens to people who are overworked, excessively multi-tasking, lack adequate sleep, or those trying to remember or analyze too much information.
If you experience a foggy head way too often and have other abnormal signs and symptoms, get yourself checked out. It could be a symptom of a medical condition such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, or fibromyalgia, whose manifestations are complex.
According to clinical psychologists, a person with brain fog will have fatigue, poor concentration, confusion, and difficulty performing tasks. In short, if you have a fuzzy head, your mind is not functioning as well as it should!
If you are working as a CNA and brain fog is slowing you down, here are some smart tips to manage:
1. Know the possible triggers and address the problem.
If the probable cause of your foggy head is not disease but stress, the common way to manage it is to take a break. With brain fog, your brain is in overdrive. Let your brain process, shut down, and reboot.
Catch up on sleep, but do not oversleep (ironically, oversleeping also causes brain fog).
If your tasks become overwhelming, stop a minute, prioritize, and cross off unimportant tasks from your to-do list. Learn to delegate and work with your team so that you do not feel burdened by overworking.
2. Whatever you do, do not commit a medical error.
Of course, making a mistake is often not a choice. And no one wants to be in this position, where an unclear mind results in compromised patient care and safety.
If you feel that you are so out-of-focus that you have trouble performing your tasks, it is better to stop and ask for help. Tell your nurse, validate information, perform self-evaluation, and double check everything.
3. Eat a healthy diet.
You skipped a meal because your schedule was pretty hectic. Bad idea . . .
Blood sugar is brain food, so working with low blood sugar is like running your car on empty—you just can't use some of the car’s features and risk stalling in the middle of the road.
It’s the same with brain fog caused by lack of food intake. The blood sugar you do have is used for more important functions for your survival, like breathing, blood pressure and such, and the allocation to process which switch turns the light on has to wait.
4. Keep yourself hydrated.
You should also be sure to drink enough liquids to enable brain processes. Adequate hydration is like oil in a machine’s gears. Dehydration equals mental fuzziness and worse. It’s that simple.
CNAs have a lot on their minds every day, and being overwhelmed can bring about a ripple effect, causing brain fog. Know when to take a break, and be humble enough to ask for help. Take care of yourself. Your job is not an easy one, so prevent common triggers. You don't have to experience brain fog (and risk of committing medical errors).
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