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Short and Sweet Summary: Widow fog is real and the lack of concentration that trips you up trying to accomplish simple tasks is not imagined. It’s like your critical thinking skills are on hiatus. But in reality, widow fog is your brain’s way of sheltering you from anything that’s too taxing on your already fragile system.
There’s a reason why your brain isn’t functioning at optimal capacity.
It’s called widow fog and it’s a real thing.
Well, we call it widow fog but it goes by many other names, too. Names like:
- Grief brain
- Grief fog
- Widow brain
- Brain fog
You’re not imagining the sudden fog and hazy feelings.
You can’t form coherent thoughts or make sound decisions. Those feelings are exacerbated by crying spells and anxiety attacks. Everything is jumbled and nothing makes sense. It’s like your brain and critical thinking skills are on hiatus. And they are, sort-of.
I know it seems counter-intuitive, but the widow fog you experience is your brain is actually helping you.
Your brain is protecting you from the terror of everyday living now that you’re alone. You’ve suffered so much trauma that it’s like your brain puts the brakes on anything that’s too taxing. Concentration takes a tremendous amount of effort, so the haze or fog sets in to give your brain a much-needed break.
The first several months after my husband died it was hard for me to do common tasks like pay bills. I would sit down to write the checks but have trouble adding and subtracting on the calculator. I remember pounding on the calculator over and over again and wondering why the numbers weren’t adding up.
It forced me to take a break and stop doing what I was doing. I had to walk away from the bills and do something else for a while.
Another annoying byproduct of widow fog was forgetting how to do something I’d done 1,000 times before. Like, signing up for parent/teacher conferences. I’d stare at the computer and wonder how to schedule the back-to-back time slots. It was like solving a complicated puzzle and I couldn’t put the pieces together.
How long does widow fog last?
Well, it could last for days, months, or even longer. There’s no set time limit. And like everything else associated with grief, it’s an individual thing.
But, there are ways to deal with widow fog. Simple ways to get your mind right. Take it from someone who’s been there. When the annoying widow fog is getting to you, refocus by doing one or more of the following.
STOP THINKING YOU HAVE DEMENTIA (Or a Brain Tumor)
I’m a worst-case-scenario thinker, so any brain malfunctions send me into a spinning swirl of anxious thoughts. I convince myself I’m early-stage dementia or I have a brain tumor.
I mean, my husband died of a brain tumor. We noticed his forgetfulness but didn’t think anything of it until the fateful day he was diagnosed. So, I naturally think I have a brain tumor when I start forgetting words.
But, I don’t have a brain tumor. I suffer from widow fog and it’s annoying as hell. So, yeah, forgetting words is irritating, but it’s not fatal.
When the widow fog is at its haziest, take your worst-case-scenario options off the table.
You’re not dying. You’re just distracted.
A normal brain isn’t made for multitasking, so your widow brain is most definitely not up to the task.
I know how it feels to get overwhelmed by so many to-do’s that you try to accomplish more than one thing at a time to clear your plate. The list is really long, you know?
However, this multitasking is working against you, not for you. If you’re anything like me you need to redo tasks because you didn’t do it right in the first place. With everything on your mind it’s not that hard to slip up and make mistakes.
So I encourage you to stop doing more than one thing at a time. I noticed a considerable difference in my widow fog recurrences once I completed one task before moving on to another.
TAKE AS MUCH TIME AS YOU NEED TO COMPLETE A TASK
Once you stop multitasking, give yourself permission to take as much time as you need to complete a task. Your life isn’t a race. No one is watching you and wondering why you didn’t complete the 683 things you had to do yesterday.
You’re the only one noticing your self-imposed timelines.
Your weary widow brain is begging you to slow down. You’re probably learning how to do a whole mess of new things, so give yourself credit where credit is due. Instead of racing through your to-do’s, pause and congratulate yourself on what you have accomplished.
Show yourself some extra grace for all that you’re learning to do on your own by taking it slow.
TAKE TIME FOR DEEP BREATHS
With all of the uncertainty and anxiety swirling around, you can sometimes forget to breathe.
In the early days of widowhood, I didn’t realize how many times I held my breath. One day, I tried a breathing technique to help with my anxiety and I realized I couldn’t take a deep breath. It hurt. Filling my lungs with air to inhale and exhale with breath awareness was next to impossible.
According to Psychology Today, “Chronic breath-holding and effortful breathing are not healthy because the muscular effort, coupled with the effects of stress on the nervous, hormonal, and immune systems, can impair both physical and psychological function.”
Don’t be like me.
Take time to notice your breathing patterns and pause once in a while to take a deep breath. Literally put a reminder on your phone if you have to.
Set aside time each day to practice specific breathing techniques like:
- These three breathing techniques to help you relax and reduce stress
- Wim Hof breathing exercises
- The Ujjayi breathing technique in yoga
Whatever you do, don’t hold that precious breath.
If you’re not drinking enough water, you’ll experience increased fatigue and an inability to focus whether you’re suffering from widow fog or not.
Conventional wisdom instructs us to shoot for at least eight glasses of water per day. And that’s a great goal if it’s attainable, but all you really need to do is remind yourself to drink water throughout the day.
Keep a water bottle by your desk or bedside table. Fill a pitcher in the morning and try to finish it by the end of the day. Put a reminder on your phone to take a water break at the same time you’re reminding yourself to breathe (see above).
You can increase your mental performance by something as simple as increasing your water intake.
DON’T SUCCUMB TO ANALYSIS PARALYSIS
Do you get overwhelmed by trying to make the “right” choice or do things the “right” way?
Widow fog doesn’t help the overwhelm of trying to be right at all.
Since your husband died, I’m sure you can think of many things that can go wrong with any number of decisions you grapple with. Anxiety over your situation intensifies, your mind races and every problem takes on the utmost importance.
Until your stuck making a decision about anything.
Here’s the thing…you have a lot to do and a lot to decide. However, not every problem has a solution. Nor does every problem require a project manager-type excel spreadsheet of solutions.
You don’t have to be perfect.
Sometimes you’ll make good decisions and sometimes you’ll make bad ones. That’s part of life and you’re still living so chances are good you’ll regret one or more prior decisions. Which is perfectly OK. We learn best from our mistakes.
Just listen to your gut, make your best decision with the information you have right now and move on.
GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
It’s so easy to get mired down in post-death tasks. THERE’S SO MUCH TO DO!
But effectively dealing with widow fog involves getting the hell out of your house. Seriously. GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. Do something, anything, that doesn’t involve falling down the rabbit hole of to-dos.
Feed the birds.
When the haze of widow fog is at its worst, the best thing you can do is a mindless activity somewhere other than your home. Leaving the physical location of your most intense grief episodes helps challenge widow fog by clearing and rebooting your mind.
A change of scenery can do wonders for your mental perseverance. When grief gets tough and your weary widow brain can’t remember why you went into the kitchen, it’s a sign to get out of your house.
Go do something else, somewhere else.
WIDOW WRAP UP
Widow fog is an unfortunate side effect of grief.
It’s your brain’s way of protecting you from the trauma you’ve endured. It’s also your brain’s way of sheltering you from anything that’s too taxing on your system.
I suffered widow fog/widow brain for months after my husband’s death. The forgetfulness and inability to concentrate were shocking. I understand now, looking back, the reason my brain needed a break. In my early days of simply functioning, I didn’t need to endure anything else that overtaxed my system.
You don’t either.
Take your widow fog episodes for what they’re worth. The time to rest, reduce stress and reassess.
I find even years later that I still have bouts of brain fog during painful stretches of time like the weeks leading up to my husband’s death anniversary. Instead of getting upset with myself, I remember why my brain is locked down. Once those painful intervals pass and I’m back to normal, I thank my brain for looking out for me.
Like everything else associated with grief, this too shall pass.
But while you’re in the middle of the widow fog haze, be gentle with yourself. Take steps to reduce your stress load by staying hydrated and not multitasking. Get out of the house when you can.
And don’t forget to breathe.