Brain Fog Is Real, And The Pandemic Is Making It Worse

by Elisha Beach
Originally Published: 
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I have been suffering from Mom Brain for a while now. I forget where I put my keys, leave my phone in the refrigerator, and can’t remember what I am looking for quite often. And I think that these are normal everyday occurrences that most moms deal with. But over the last four or five months, my brain fog has reached disturbing levels and I think the pandemic is making it worse.

Since the summer, focusing on tasks like reading and writing have become significantly challenging. I also seem to have lost any ability to recall what I was thinking if I am sidetracked by anything at all. I thought that maybe virtual schooling my four kids was to blame. It is extremely difficult to focus on a work project when every 15 minutes a kid needs help with school work, I have to fix a technical issue on a school app, or someone is having a meltdown over an assignment. But when we went on break from school, I still couldn’t get my brain to work.

It takes me twice as long to complete tasks because I just can’t focus. It feels like I can’t seem to react fast enough to follow through on my thoughts. And writing or formulating a thought feels like my brain is wading through some kind of mental quicksand. As a writer, this is a working hazard.

But that’s not all. I could never seem to remember what day it is and I would mix up my kids’ school schedules at least twice a week. There have been a few times when I was driving somewhere and completely forgot where I was going. I once poured dog food into my salad instead of the dog dish right in front of me. I also put an entire dish of fudge in the washing machine instead of in the refrigerator. And yes, I cried over that waste of perfectly good chocolate.

The combination of all of this made me worry that something was really wrong. I couldn’t tell if I was losing my mind, going through early menopause, or actually having a medical issue. I talked to my therapist, my gynecologist and my naturopathic doctor to find answers. But it turns out, I was experiencing pandemic brain fog… and I am not the only one.

Evidently, the chronic stress of this never ending pandemic is taking a toll on all of us. Trying to stay on top of work, running a home, virtual schooling kids while still processing the mental load that comes along with this pandemic has broken our brains. You can call it pandemic brain fog, brain fatigue or quarantine brain, but apparently the inability to think clearly is a very normal response to a not-so-normal situation.

According to an article by the BBC, some psychologists believe that Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) can explain why people seem to be experiencing brain fog during the pandemic. CLT was first developed by the Australian educational psychologist John Sweller. It identifies our minds as information processing systems.

The theory is based on the idea that the brain processes information through both working memory and long-term memory. Working memory processes new information and long-term memory processes all the things we already know. Apparently you can process large amounts of stored information because you are able to fall back on autopilot. However, your working memory is only capable of processing small amounts of new information.

In other words, all the changes brought on by this pandemic have caused an overload of new information, making our brains unable to access the autopilot mode that we moms depend on. And our limited working memory is at capacity. Oh, and did I mention that increased stress and anxiety even further limits your working memory capacity?

Psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser explained things on an even more medical level. She shared that when you are stressed your body releases the hormone cortisol. She stated that, “Cortisol is the stress hormone that allows us to rise and handle difficult situations. But too much cortisol for a long period of time can cause brain fog and other issues.”

So, no, you are not losing your mind. Basically, your executive function circuits are burnt out and not functioning properly. And as a matter of survival, your brain is shutting down. It’s kind of your brain’s way of practicing self-care.

So what can you do to combat pandemic brain fog?

As a trauma specialist, Stacy Kaiser shares that practicing self-care during these unprecedented times is paramount. She expresses that it is important to get rest and take the time to nurture your body and mind. And when you feel the onset of brain fog, don’t be afraid to step away and take a break.

She also expressed that it is really important to set a routine for yourself and your family. Taking the time to get more structured and organized will help you spend much less time having to figure things out in the moment. And also take note if there is any person, place or situation triggering brain fog and deal with the underlying situation.

On the whole, this pandemic has brought about some pretty drastic changes to people’s everyday lives. Our normal daily routines were completely disrupted, we have been isolated from friends and family, and parenting duties doubled overnight. So, it is really important to acknowledge any pandemic brain fog you may be feeling and take steps to prioritize your mental and emotional wellbeing. That way you won’t completely lose it during these crazy times.

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