It will be one year since we have been in and out of lockdown with restricted movement, unable to interact face-to-face with people we used to. While human beings have the amazing ability to adapt and we have been in the history of humankind through worse, it doesn’t mean that isolation doesn’t hurt our mental health. After all, human beings are a social species that relies on one another.
Brain fog as a side effect of COVID-19 fatigue
When the brain is in stress mode, it releases cortisol and epinephrine hormones. These hormones, also known as adrenaline, increases our ability to react, be more aware and focused. It is the body’s natural reaction to danger. Our heart beats faster and we breathe harder. But what happens if we are in this mode for many months? It’s called “chronic stress”. And what chronic stress does to our body? It decreases immune function, increases appetite, elevates blood pressure, alters digestive functions, makes you depressed and has an impact on how our brain works.
In addition to bad mood and poor quality of sleep, our ability to think is also impacted. This research found that chronic stress causes poor memory retrieval (ability to recall things you know) and poor memory consolidation (ability to learn and remember new things). What’s more worrisome is that long term exposure to stress hormones can be toxic to our brains, leading to inflammation.
How to build resilience
1. Create routines
Set regularly scheduled times for your daily tasks and stick to them. A seemingly small achievement like having lunch on time is comforting for your brain. And having a clear overview of what’s going to happen and when in a day makes you feel more organized and calmer. You can also make a daily list of tasks and check them off as you go. For this purpose, we recommend Loop Habit Tracker app for Android or Productive – Habit Tracker app for iOS.
2. Take breaks
As a part of your routine, don’t forget to take your regular break. It is the most effective thing to do to immediately get rid of the pressure. Do something that will make you stop thinking about what have you been doing for the past hours, something that you enjoy. Go out, listen to your favourite podcast. In the time of stress, your memory isn’t as effective, so it is important to give your brain the time to refocus.
3. Reduce multi-tasking
Your brain can only take so many tasks. Every time the brain starts to focus on a new task, it has to recalibrate. If you overwhelm yourself with joggling between too many tasks, your brain will get tired easily. In fact, only going from the computer screen to the phone or from the current task to quickly checking an email, it puts an extra strain on your brain that needs to refocus each time. The best thing from a point of mental well-being and productivity is to focus on one thing until you can check it off, or safe it to finish later.
Other method involves mindfulness or you can try to incorporate into your diet food that is rich in nutrients that support brain function, such as B-vitamins and essential fatty acids.
Protective and damaging effects of stress mediators: central role of the brain (nih.gov)
Effects of stress hormones on the brain and cognition: Evidence from normal to pathological aging (nih.gov)
Coping with COVID Stress: From Pandemic Brain Fog to Building (and Studying) Resilience – Penn Medicine