How The Lockdown Has Affected Us
It could be years before we know the full extent of the damage caused by COVID-19. While we understand the physical symptoms of the virus, there is no way to know the long-term effects that the multiple lockdowns will have on many people’s mental and physical health, not to mention the economy.
During the peak of the pandemic, NHS leaders revealed that they have noticed a rise in reported mental health challenges. Some of the most common among these are anxiety and depressive disorders. One result that has already become apparent is what’s known as ‘pandemic brain’. After over a year of lockdowns, many people are finding it difficult to think properly or concentrate.
So, what exactly is the pandemic brain?
The Pandemic Brain
Some researchers and experts have revealed that chronic stress from the pandemic and lockdowns has affected our cognitive functioning. If you have been experiencing increased difficulty concentrating, heightened forgetfulness and a dulled state of mind, you are not alone.
Thanks to the traumatic events over the past couple of years, many people’s brain functioning has been affected. From retentive memory problems to lower attention spans and difficulty with problem-solving. A study on cognitive functioning in relation to the lockdown revealed that people performed badly in cognitive function tests during the lockdown compared to when restrictions were lifted. This form of brain fog stems from a combination of different factors.
Factors That Contribute to the Pandemic Brain
There’s no denying that the pandemic, lockdowns and mainstream media have and still are taking a toll on society in general. For a variety of reasons, many people have become more stressed over the last couple of years. For many, it’s the uncertainty of if and when the world will get back to normal. For some, this is also combined with taking care of loved ones who have been affected. And for others, the fear of contracting the virus has them stuck in their homes worried sick… literally.
Studies show that prolonged periods of stress can kill brain cells. Not only that, but stress has been proven to shrink the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for many critical tasks including focus, memory and learning. We have experienced several disruptions in our daily routines, not to mention the onslaught of negative news the public are consuming on a daily basis, resulting in lengthened periods of heightened cortisol and in turn lowered immune systems.
Lack of Distinctiveness
The lockdown, for many people, meant they had no choice but to stay in the same building, and in some cases the same room for unnaturally long periods of time. This repeat in patterns and blending of our days without distinction left our brains without stimulation. For many, every day looked the same during lockdown. It has been reported that this lack of stimulation can impact the way our brains process memories. This can play a role in our inability to separate one memory from another, thereby causing a confused or foggy feeling in the brain and mind. Basically, we find it difficult to differentiate certain memories from one another.
Isolation and Lack of Social Interaction
With many being isolated from family and friends, social skills and the will to mingle and spend time with others have taken a hit. Although we can appreciate the usefulness of technology in times like these, nothing beats physical interaction. According to some studies, the risk of dementia is increased when we humans are in isolation. Apart from this, we can also link isolation to conditions like depression, chronic inflammation and anxiety. Also, people who are disconnected from society and loved ones have been proven to exhibit faster cognitive decline rates. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done regarding the direct link between the pandemic, social isolation and cognitive decline. However, it is very clear that a lack of interaction plays a huge part in our mental health.
What We Can Do
When people feel stressed out, there is a tendency for a downward spiral to occur. We tend to push ourselves hard which only leads to further physical, mental and emotional pressure. If you or someone you know have experienced a decline in cognitive functioning due to one or a combination of the situations we mentioned above, there are things you can do to bounce back.
Pay Attention to The Signals
When you notice changes in your cognitive functioning such as memory, learning or attention problems, you should take it as a signal. So, rather than pushing yourself harder and creating more stressors in the body, use the signal as a way to remind yourself to pause, breathe and relax. This is the first step in avoiding major burnout. Listen to what your body is telling you and take the steps to introduce positive action.
We all know by now the positive effects mindfulness and meditation have on our mental wellbeing. With the changes happening around us, and the media catastrophizing everything to bump their ratings, there’s no wonder people are living in fear and worry. The difference between people who struggle during these times and people who manage their mental health and emotions, are actions.
As mentioned above, we all know the positive effects mindfulness and meditation have on our mental wellbeing, so if we know that it’s good for us, why do so few people take the time to practice. If you’re feeling the pressure and strain of lockdown, if you’re afraid of the COVID-19 virus or the news is causing you anxiety, and you truly do want to feel better, then set aside 5-10 minutes a day, listen to a guided meditation, and for your own sake, switch off the news!
Introduce Exercise and Physical Activity into Your Routine
It is a known fact that physical activity significantly improves our physical health and wellbeing. However, regular exercise also positively affects our cognitive functioning. Moderate-intensity exercises can improve cognitive flexibility and also increase our working memory’s performance.
Physical exercise helps in boosting our mood, ability to think and can also help improve memory. With staying indoors so much these days, it can be tempting to stay in bed or on the couch for most of the day. Don’t sit around waiting to be motivated, motivation comes after action. You do something you don’t want to do, you feel good for doing it, and hey presto you are motivated to do more. Make it a priority to include exercises and movements into your daily routine.
The lockdown has caused various lifestyle and health changes in many people’s lives. From the fear of uncertainty to the effects of isolation, there is no denying that these situations are many people’s reality. Even with the rise of the pandemic brain, we can still take charge of our mental health through small daily changes.
But the only person capable of making that happen… is you.