It will be a year since we are in and out of lockdown with limited movement, unable to interact face-to-face with people we are used to. While human beings have an amazing ability to adapt and people have gone through worse times in human history, this does not mean that isolation does not harm our mental health. After all, human beings are a social species that relies on each other.
Brain fog as a side effect of pandemic fatigue
When the brain is in stress mode, it releases cortisol and epinephrine hormones. These hormones, also known as adrenaline, increase our ability to react, be more aware and focused. It is the body’s natural response to danger. Our heart beats faster and we breathe harder. But what happens if we have been in this mode for many months? This is called “chronic stress”. And what does chronic stress do to our bodies? It reduces immune function, increases appetite, elevates blood pressure, alters digestive functions and causes depression.
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). Even more worrying is that long-term exposure to stress hormones can be toxic to our brains and lead to inflammation.
How to build resilience
1. Create routines
Set schedules for your daily tasks and try to stick to them. A seemingly small achievement, like having lunch on time, is comforting for your brain. And thanks to a clear overview of what will happen during the day and when you will feel better organized and calmer. You can also create a daily to-do list and check them off as you go. For this purpose, we recommend the Loop Habit Tracker app for Android or the Productive – Habit Tracker app for iOS.
2. Take breaks
As part of your routine, don’t forget to take a 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 you have been doing for the past hours, something that you enjoy. Go out, listen to your favourite podcast. In times of stress, your memory is not as effective, so it is important to give your brain time to refocus.
3. Reduce multi-tasking
Your brain can only handle so many tasks. Each time the brain begins to focus on a new task, it must recalibrate. If you get overwhelmed by too many tasks, your brain will easily get tired. Just moving from the computer screen to the phone or from the current task to quickly checking email, puts an additional burden on your brain which has to refocus every time you do that. 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 save it for later.
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