Older woman working from home, featured blog image illustrating how to work with brain fog

How to work with brain fog

HR guru Rebecca Armstrong looks at how to work with brain fog.

Brain fog is, for me, or anyone, one of the most frustrating parts of working with multiple sclerosis (MS). That feeling of sitting at a desk trying to make sense of things whilst being unable to retain things for more than a minute can make the day hard.

I always find my foggy days are often my most exhausting ones too. In this month’s column we talk about working with brain fog and how we can put in place things to help make it easier.

Aim for acceptance

I think the first thing when it comes to dealing with brain fog is to acknowledge it. I’ve experienced episodes of it for years but have always powered through. For me, this is one of the scariest aspects of MS, so acknowledging was too hard. Over time I have learned to accept it as part of MS rather than being a reflection on my own actual ability. So, when it arises, in much the same way as any other symptom, I need to adjust and do things a bit different to enable me to continue to function to some degree whilst also not exhausting myself. Here are some of the things that could help you with brain fog periods

  • Slow down, take a moment to write down what you need to do and keep referring to your notes. When brain fog hits, I always have a note pad with me. I’ve learned that no matter how much I tell myself I will remember something, I probably won’t, so just write it all down!
  • Shuffle your work as much as you can. I find it easier to do some tasks over others, so when I know I am feeling like this I try to move things as much as I can so that the things in front of me feel easier.
  • Break tasks into manageable chunks and just give yourself one thing to focus on at a time. Keep the to-do list to the side and pick one thing and do that, then go back and tick it off and pick up another thing. Try to minimise distractions, too.
  • Ask for help (another one I struggle with!). Who can support you? At work, speak with your manager and ask for adjustments. If it is outside of work, let people help you.
  • Ensure you prioritise self-care and take breaks throughout the day. Even if you feel you are falling behind, it is important to have that break to keep you well. Keep hydrated and eat well. Avoid working excessive hours, it is likely this will simply compound things – you need to rest.
  • If you need to pause, pause. Powering through isn’t always the solution, sometimes we need to stop, recharge and then pick up. This could include taking some time off as sick leave, or asking for holiday time.


Make a change

Finally, if it becomes longer-term then think about your working pattern. Would working less hours help, less days, different hours – remember you can request reasonable adjustments to help you stay at work and be well. A reasonable adjustment is a change your employer has to make to avoid you being put at a disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person. It could be a change to your job or your working environment. Your right to ask for reasonable adjustments is part of the Equality Act.