For the past year and a half, we have been living through a global Covid 19 pandemic that has single handily altered the lives of everyone in the world. We have had to deal with social distancing measures and physical isolation, triggering depression and anxiety that has affected both our brains and bodies.
Our stress and anxiety levels have increased due to maintaining employment, managing work and life balance. Some of us have had to deal with sick loved ones or been ill ourselves. Our collective mental health has been tested to a level hard to compare.
The most common consequence of the pandemic at the present moment is what is known as the Pandemic Brain Fog.
What is the Pandemic Brain Fog?
The pandemic brain fog is a term related to the later part of the pandemic, with the typical characteristics of general fatigue, memory loss, trouble focusing difficulty with decision-making. Generally it feels as if we have clouded thinking.
When we first experienced the Covid 19 pandemic, we experienced acute stress because we were attempting to adapt to a new way of living quickly. Sharing goals to stay safe and keep people at home offered a general feeling of camaraderie. Through the summer, people had a chance to get out and enjoy the weather, but after the last lockdown, the long length of Covid 19 has caught up with us and our mental health.
Causes of the Pandemic Fog
Covid 19 has isolated people for extended periods. This isolation along with the inability to break out of the monotonous routines has negatively impacted everyone’s brain health.
Research has pointed to chronic stress as the most significant reason for brain fog. Stress is a natural short-term state that helps when we are in danger; cortisol and adrenaline are hormones released in part of the brain to trigger the fight, flight, or freeze reaction.
However, when we experience this for an extended period and do not use it, it becomes distressing and can lead to many health problems.
As the coronavirus crisis drags on, episodes of acute stress have become chronic for many. In a state of chronic stress, the body keeps churning out stress hormones, and these hormones start having other effects and symptoms on the body:
The Pandemic Fog Affected Our Mental Health
As extended chronic stress leads to a lack of concentration, focus, and an incapability to deal with our emotions, our mental and general health has deteriorated in many ways:
- Decreased immune function
- Increased appetite (leading to overeating and weight gain)
- Metabolic changes, including chronically elevated blood pressure and blood sugar
- Altered digestive function (like bloating and diarrhea)
- Poor quality of sleep and concentration
- Depressed mood
In addition to profoundly impacting mood and sleep functions in the brain, these stress hormones have also directly impacted our ability to think; for example, navigating a map or the ability to focus on list-making is no longer a small chore.
Researchers have linked chronic stress to poor cognition: memory retrieval, memory consolidation, and learning new things. After a time, chronic stress is toxic for the brain.
How to Know if You Are Impacted by Brain Fog
At this point, you may be questioning what life was like before the pandemic. You may remember having a robust schedule, having better memory, the capacity to do things that require concentration and recall for events.
That might be a stark contrast to how your brain is feeling today, and that is normal. Your prefrontal cortex has been through a lot. You may be unable to tap into short-term memory or have lost your sense of motivation for the day. Like many adults, you may be feeling brain fog, but there is a lot that you can do for your brains now and the future.
How to Sharpen Your Brain
The good news is that there are many ways to reduce stress and take care of the quarantine brain. Placing focus on organizational tools and prioritizing health and wellness is an excellent start to getting back the feeling of an everyday life.
Here is a list of things that you can start to do today:
1. Develop a Routine
Creating a routine is a great organizational tool that helps to prioritize the tasks you want to complete. Adding a list gives you the ability to leave prompts and information to follow. That way you don’t have to depend on your brain to remember everything.
Technology can be convenient and helpful to gettng you organized. There are many list-making apps. You can set reminders when you schedule events or appointments into a digital calendar.
Adding health-related tasks will be helpful to ensure priority, such as exercise routines and sleep. Scheduling can also help create a work routine for healthy boundaries so that work is not done all day and night.
2. Wellness Practices For Brain Power
Wellness practices can be a wide range of actions that are related to self-care. Some immediate steps that can be taken that are instantly beneficial are prioritizing healthy sleep habits.
Concentrate on rest. It is essential when experiencing symptoms of a pandemic. Brain research suggests that sleep can help improve problem-solving skills, enhance memory performance and reduce depression. Doing a sleep audit can be a great way to determine whether you are getting enough quality rest to ease brain fog.
Take a Break From the News
Another wellness practice is mentally breaking from the newsfeed, it is normal to want to stay up to date with daily news information but because we live in a time when the newsfeed is always on if we do not turn it off, we can listen to the news all day, triggering constant feelings of stress.
Having a mindful approach can be life-changing, only listen to the news first thing in the morning, block alerts and reminders, and have a time of the day where you break away from technology and put it away.
3. Contemplative Practices
Finding relaxation practices to help connect the body and mind is essential and critical when going through long periods of stress. Meditation and mindfulness practices are incredibly beneficial for finding calm every day.
For those who have not tried this before and do not know where to start, a meditation app or podcast may be a great way to begin. Starting the morning with a 5-minute body scan can create both a mentally positive ritual and a rewarding way of reducing stress and brain fog.
4. Find Laughter
As obvious as this can seem, having a sense of humor is vital for our long-term health and emotions. The benefits of laughter are an increase in endorphins, relaxation, a boost to the immune system, and lowering of stress hormones.
The next time you sit down to view a movie, check out the latest Rom-Com, or if you like it stand up comedy, choose that over thrillers or suspense watching that can lead to an increase of stress.
If you have social media accounts, check out some of the fun and laugh-worthy personalities. Start following some comedians or performances that are designed for a good laugh at the moment.
5. Healthy Diet
In moments of stress, we tend to put our dietary needs at the end of our priority list, which is the worst thing that we can do for our brain health. Some practical ways of getting and staying on track with the food you are eating are the following.
Having healthy snacks on hand. You can place protein bars at your workstation or on a tray in the living room for ease of access.
Meal prepping healthy foods is also a great tool to ensuring that you will make healthy choices and reduce brain fog.
For brainpower, focus on rich leafy green veggies like kale and chard. Foods high in antioxidants like blueberries and omega-like fish are great options for ensuring that you need to improve brain function. If you don’t have a ton of experience in the kitchen, you can use social media to follow nutritionists or use a meal plan delivery service to get you started.
Ensuring that you are staying hydrated is another meaningful way to getting healthy, making sure to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day.
You can set reminders for yourself or have a large water pitcher as a visual reminder to drink up.
Getting your body moving is vital stress-fighting action that you can start anytime and reduce brain fog. Physical activity can be as simple as taking a 30- minute walk every morning or meeting a fitness group in the park to do a circuit 2-3 times a week.
Getting physically started for most people can be the most challenging part, so use trigger tools to help you get there. Plan for the future, leave your workout clothes by the door the night before, partner up with a friend to keep you accountable, or set up a reminder on your phone of the tasks you want to accomplish.
7. Find Support
This one is important and is often overlooked. When we are under stress, it is normal to feel emotionally unbalanced and miss the in-person social interaction that comforts us. This is not easy.
Finding a few friends or family members that can support you and relate to while you are going through these challenges can be helpful to find perspective, as well as feeling connected and cared for. Another great resource is talk therapy.
Working with a professional psychotherapist can be highly beneficial to expressing complex feelings, gaining tools for coping and positively processing emotions, and relieving brain fog.
We work with clients every day to help them through difficult times. If you are looking for a psychotherapist you can book a session with us online.