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Do you feel lately as if life is just happening to you?

Each day you wake and go about your daily tasks with the same amount of dulled normality as the day before. It may feel like you are half awake as you try and navigate the world in its current unreliable state. If you feel like this, then do not worry – you are not alone!

Over the past 18 months, we have been pushed to near breaking point as we’ve been forced to alter our habits and lifestyles to stop the spread of COVID-19. From multiple lockdowns to social isolation and social distancing, our brains have been re-wired to function in our new dystopian reality.

What scientists are calling ‘pandemic brain’ is just one lasting side-effect leaking into our lives in the late pandemic.

What, you may ask, is ‘pandemic brain’?

Poor focus, lack of concentration, forgetfulness and loss of social skills are just some of the symptoms – and most of us have experienced at least some. Pandemic brain has indeed affected everyone who has been through the last year of turmoil. For many it might feel like an inescapable downward spiral as things feel increasingly out of our control.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. No matter how severe your case of pandemic brain is, whether you can’t remember how to order a coffee or if you have forgotten how to stay focused in a business meeting, hope is not lost!

There are many things you can do to ease yourself back into your old routines, making the necessary alterations as you adjust to this ‘new normal’.

The science behind the saying

Pandemic brain is the loss of some cognitive abilities due to the dramatic lifestyle changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.Confused woman - mental health

As society locked themselves in their houses, working from home in their pjs, changing their daily commute from their bed to the home desk, our brains have automatically filed away the information for one version of our lives and created a new one – a pandemic-themed one!

In an article from the Huffington Post [1], Jessica Gold, Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University of Medicine, discussed the definition of pandemic brain. Gold described it as a lingering sense of exhaustion, confusion and lack of concentration caused by the dulling of the senses over a prolonged period, but these effects should be recoverable over time.

Natural adaptation to our surroundings is a key part of evolution. Just like the moths who evolved to darker colours to hide from prey during the rise of smog in the industrial revolution, our brains have been clouded with a fog of forgetting to survive the pandemic.

In an article from The Atlantic [2], it was observed how many cannot fathom their old lives and have forged new habits and routines which are less demanding of their time and brain. It is too early to produce any thorough research on the long-term effects of pandemic brain, but its symptoms are certainly a tangible reality for many.

Whilst we learn how to function in the late-pandemic world, there is another pandemic brewing on the horizon.

There is no vaccine for the mental health crisis

Graph showing how well people were coping with stress related to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Graph showing how well people were coping with stress related to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Graphs showing the decline in peoples ability to cope well, as the pandemic and its associated restrictions continued. In particular, Young People (aged 18-24yrs) were coping less well. Source: mentalhealth.org.uk

The pandemic will have a longer lasting effect on our mental health than our physical health, although the severity of these effects will differ depending on your circumstances and mental health prior to the pandemic.

The Mental Health Foundation [3] has dedicated a section on their website to providing information, advice and stats for dealing with your mental health in the late pandemic. Whether you are coping with the loss of a loved one, economic difficulties, loneliness or depression, there is much advice tailored to people from different backgrounds, including those of the LGBTQ+ and BAME communities.

Looking at some of the stats from late February 2021 [4], there has been a rise in levels of positive wellbeing in recent months. Whilst there was an initial rise in suicidal thoughts in single parents, young adults and the clinically vulnerable during the first few months of the pandemic, these figures have declined.

In March 2020, 62% of the British population felt anxious/worried, but this has now declined to 42% in the late February 2021 stats. These figures are gathered from various surveys provided from research groups and are designed to gather information on the mental wellbeing of the population.

Top tips to tackle Pandemic Brain fog

No matter what your circumstances are, if you are feeling the effects of ‘pandemic brain’, the following tips will help you on your journey to improving your focus and find your new ‘normal’:

1. Take it easy
First and foremost, take it easy on yourself. There is no race to get yourself back to where you used to be. No one is going to be the same, everyone will be dealing with the same aftermath as you – the best advice anyone can give you is to be kind to each other.

2. Take regular breaks
Especially between work – this will help you ease back into the working routine and give your brain a moment to recharge.

3. Get support
Surround yourself with supportive friends and family to increase your positivity and contentment.

4. Remember to rest
Get lots of sleep. Readjusting will be exhausting, so give your brain the break it needs.

5. Seek professional help where needed
Speak to a professional if you are struggling – as discussed, we’re on the brink of a mental health crisis. The first step is admitting it is okay to need help.

6. Be bold
Spontaneity – step away from the basic and boring; awaken your dormant side of risk and madness to break the fog, although do so safely!

It is time to wake up from the pandemic brain fog. Remember how amazing it feels to be alive, stay safe, be sensible and live.

References
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