Multiple Sclerosis

Navigating Holiday Gatherings with MS Brain Fog

November 30, 2023

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Navigating Holiday Gatherings with Brain Fog

Does MS brain fog have you struggling to get the words out or keeping up with a conversation? If so, holiday gatherings may have you feeling anxious and self-conscious. This isn’t who you used to be, and you don’t want to start declining invitations now because of Multiple Sclerosis. Let’s talk about some ways to navigate through the fog so that you can enjoy the holiday season.

Real Life Stories in the Fog

The idea for this post came from a conversation I was having with several members in this community during the 5 Days to Focus Challenge where I taught about managing MS fatigue and brain fog. 

Members started sharing their firsthand experience living with MS brain fog.

Forgetting the Pot of Boiling Water

One person shared that she often forgets about the pot of water that she started boiling on the stove. She’ll get distracted and before she knows it, her husband is giving her a hard time for putting something on the stove that she forgot about… AGAIN.

Forgetful Friendships

Another person shared that she gets so frustrated with herself when she’s catching up with a good friend and she’s embarrassed because she doesn’t remember a pretty significant life event that her friend shared with her last time they spoke. It comes across like she previously wasn’t paying attention or she doesn’t really care about what’s going on with her friend but that’s simply not true. 

Struggling to Get the Words Out

Yet another person shares how she struggles to get the words or thoughts out in time to keep up with a conversation. She’ll think of it 10 minutes after the fact – long after the conversation has moved on. So she feels distanced from the conversations that are happening right in front of her. 

You know what’s wrong – it’s MS fatigue – but you just don’t want MS to get the best of you. It makes you feel like an idiot. And the worst part is you remember a time when it wasn’t like this. 

You remember a time when conversations were easy and your memory may not have been the sharpest, but it definitely wasn’t like this. It’s humbling, embarrassing and frustrating.

So what do we do?

As tempting as it may be, you don’t want to start declining invitations because of MS brain fog. Social isolation only makes living with MS harder. 

We need real, practical ways to help overcome this so we can still enjoy this holiday season – and any social gathering really. 

My Top 3 Tips for Navigating the Brain Fog 

Clean Up Your Diet

Our mind might not automatically go to food when we’re addressing brain fog but research continues to show the connection between gut health and brain health.

So while now may be the time that you’re tempted to throw your MS diet to the wind, it’s more valuable now than ever. 

I find gluten, dairy and sugar to be the most important foods to avoid when managing brain fog. 

Even if you can focus on eating less than you normally do it will help. 

And replace those foods with more vegetables – especially the leafy greens because those are the ones that will support your cells with better energy – and when your cells have better energy – you have better energy – and the less tired you are the sharper you can be mentally. 

So can you have more green smoothies throughout your holiday season? (Don’t forget I have that 5 Day Smoothie Challenge if you need simple recipes and cooking demos so you’re not gulping down gross smoothies. The ones in my smoothie challenge are delicious and they’re packed with nutrients to support your health)

So can you have more green smoothies?

Can you have a salad with some salmon at lunch? 

If nothing else, help to make the meals that you’re eating at home to be the most nutrient dense for you. 

I personally choose to completely eliminate gluten and dairy and avoid sugar as much as possible, but we’re all at different stages of our journey, so have an awareness of where you are now and what’s just one way that you can start eliminating the inflammatory foods – like gluten, dairy and sugar – and eating more anti-inflammatory foods – like leafy greens, deeply colored vegetables and sulfur rich. 

And get some good healthy fats in there like salmon, avocado, coconut milk, nuts and seeds. Our brain thrives on healthy fats. 

So cleaning up your diet today. Don’t wait until the day of the party, start that today. 

Prioritize Sleep 

So much happens when we sleep. Specifically, our brain detoxifies and stores memories when we sleep. And yet, the holidays are a time when we may be getting less sleep. 

We’re trying to fit more into a day, and we’re also often carrying a heavier load of stress which can impact our sleep. 

I’m in the middle of teaching my online course – My MS Life – and we’re talking a lot about strategies to improve your sleep. 

Just a few of them include: 

  • Getting off screens before bed
  • Diffusing essential oils like lavender and frankincense in my bedroom.
  • Journaling can also be really effective for managing the mental and emotional stress that can keep you up at night.

Managing Mindset

That which we focus on gets bigger. The more you focus on the brain fog and how often it’s showing up in your life, the more you’ll see it. 

I’m not suggesting that you just try to wish it away or pretend like it’s not happening. That’s not helpful. 

What I am suggesting is that you start paying attention to your self-talk. Are you psyching yourself out before you even get to the party? That’s only going to create more anxiety and fear around it, which will make it worse.

What if, instead you had an affirmation like… 

  • Every social event is an opportunity to practice and improve my conversational skills.
  • I give myself grace and patience in every conversation I engage in.
  • It’s okay to take a moment to gather my thoughts in any discussion.
  • My friends and family understand and support me.
  • I am at peace in this moment; my breath guides me through the fog.

These are of course just ideas, but you can also create one that is most meaningful to you. 

Just remember, that which you focus on gets bigger, so if the thoughts that you’re thinking aren’t supporting where you want to be, it’s time to choose a new thought and that can start with an affirmation. 

Tips for the Party

Okay so these are all bigger picture strategies that are going to really help you best manage MS brain fog not just today, but long term, because this is a chronic illness after all. 

But I also want to take a moment to share some tips that may be able to help you in the moment. 

Conversation Notes

Before showing up at the holiday party, try to jot down some key things about each person. That can help you to recall things when you’re in a low pressure situation so it may be easier to remember. This can not only make you feel more confident showing up at the party, but it makes the recall easier the day of. 

Think of Some Common Topics

You may also find it helpful to think of some common or general topics that you could talk about with anyone. 

Having a few go-to topics ready can be helpful in case you lose track of the conversation. 

This could be the weather, the holiday, food, a celebrity, anything that’s easy for you to talk about and would be of interest to others as well. 

Don’t Make it Awkward

If you don’t remember something, that’s okay. The reality is we all forget things in the busyness of a world filled with constant distractions. 

That experience is just amplified for us living with Multiple Sclerosis. 

But my point is that everyone can relate to forgetting things. 

So you don’t have to make it awkward. If you’re open about your diagnosis, you can simply say, sorry that’s my MS brain fog kicking in! Don’t take it personal. 

Or if you don’t share your diagnosis, you can say something like, sorry the busyness of the holidays always make my memory a little foggy. 

Or if you really need an out, simply excuse yourself. It’s okay to simply say “please excuse me for a moment.” 

Give Yourself Grace

And last but not least, have some grace with yourself. 

You showed up to the party, that’s a win. 

You’re having a conversation with someone – In Real Life – that’s another win!

Give yourself permission to take a moment to think before responding.

If you need to take a sip of water to buy yourself a few seconds before responding do so. 

Nobody is perfect, you are doing your best and your family and friends support you as you are. 

Now It’s Your Turn!

Share in the comments below what helps you navigate holiday gatherings with MS brain fog. Let’s get a list going so we can all learn from each other. 

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I'm Alene, your MS Sister.

When I was diagnosed with MS in 2016, I was scared and felt alone. But as a Nutrition Coach, I knew there was more to healing than what I was being told. I took action and within six months the lesions I had on my brain shrunk and went inactive. Now, seven years later there has been no new lesions and no new activity. As a nutritionist specializing in multiple sclerosis, I help women take back control of their future.

That’s my story, but I’m not alone. It's your turn to start Thriving with MS. I’m here to show you the way. 

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