If in the last few months of pre-vacation work you’ve been distracted, listless and felt like you’re losing your mind, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, most people on the planet probably feel the exact same things right now. On the other hand, the global pandemic that we have experienced, and are still experiencing, has had particularly profound and lasting effects on each of us.
In fact, Covid-19 has not only affected people who have contracted the virus, and the families of those who have died from it.
Anyone who has lived in the era of the pandemic has been affected in some way. And one consequence that people are starting to notice and feel more and more evident is the phenomenon known as “pandemic brain”, that is “Pandemic brain”.
A report from last August in the magazine Neuropsychopharmacology review in fact explains that, regardless of whether Covid-19 has been contracted or not, the pandemic has changed our brains. Coronavirus itself can indeed cause several significant neurological disorders, but apart from that, isolation, social distancing and constant worry can alter brain chemistry and cause mental disorders, such as anxiety or depression.
According to the study’s author, Dr. Deniz Vatansever, these changes are likely responsible for the mood swings, fatigue and cognitive changes reported by the population. This is often caused by the alteration of the cortisol, the main stress hormone in the body. If in moderate and manageable quantities, stress can cause us to activate thought and action; on the other hand, prolonged high stress, especially if it becomes chronic, can negatively affect our daily mental functioning and overall health and well-being.
It is in fact known that prolonged exposure to stress it can affect our sleep and make us more susceptible to heart disease and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. A study conducted by researchers at Yale University found that chronic stress kills brain cells and can also reduce the size of the prefrontal cortex, or the part of the brain responsible for memory, concentration and learning. Scientists also argue that this may be the starting point for other brain changes such as delirium, fatigue, headaches, memory loss, inattention.
Mental health professionals have started calling this malaise “pandemic brain” precisely,“Pandemic brain”. The term refers tomental clouding we experience during this time, due to both the stress and the fact that we have (almost) forgotten what it means to live a ‘normal’ life.
The pandemic brain it is not a mental disorder, and although it is a phenomenon that is certainly happening, it has not yet been studied.
“The pandemic brain is a subjective account of what people describe as a clouded mind,” says Raquel Gur, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and radiology at the University of Pennsylvania. “People feel as if they are no longer intelligent, insightful, sharp: there is a feeling of being overwhelmed.”
This, of course, makes everyday life more difficult. The mental clouding we experience makes it almost impossible to actively think, reflect and concentrate; and being indoors all the time only makes things worse.
The good news, however, is that after studying what the pandemic has done to our brains, researchers believe it is possible to fully recover from the pandemic brain. According to experts, in fact, our brains are metaphorically malleable enough to return to their pre-pandemic states. Even if it will take time and patience.
HOW CAN I MANAGE THIS PROBLEM AND SAY GOODBYE ONCE FOR ALL TO PANDEMIC BRAIN?
As we have seen, the root of the problem could be cortisol, the chemical released by the body when it is under stress. After all, the pandemic was nothing more than a prolonged moment of stress. Even if we are not aware of it, we are probably feeling the weight and immense pain that the coronavirus has brought with it. Not to mention how our entire lives were uprooted out of the blue.
An innate skill called neuroplasticity allows you to use the ‘thinking mind’ for recalibrate the structure and functioning of our brain. Basically, the neuroplasticity ensures that the architecture of our mind is never set in stone. Which means we won’t get trapped in the pandemic brain, and that indeed it is possible to ‘redesign’ one’s brain and calm the instinctive worries and fears that arose with the arrival of the pandemic.
To regain possession of our pre-Covid-19 cognitive abilities, experts suggest for example to engage in new and relaxing activities, not to worry about“what if” and practicing mindfulness and positivity, but also of exercise, stay in contact with nature as much as possible, decrease the use of technologies and focus on the things that make us feel good. These activities will allow us to feel a sense of normalcy while helping us to say goodbye to pandemic brain.
However, after 18 months of social distancing, of uncertainty, of a ‘new normal’, and still without a Covid-19 expiration date, how long it will take to be able to concentrate as before the pandemic remains to be discovered.