The stress of the Covid-19 pandemic can affect how your brain works – even if you’ve never had the virus.
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Pandemic Brain Fog
Experts dub the phenomenon the “pandemic brain” — people suffer from “increased fatigue, limited decision-making, and poor concentration” because of the “uncertainty and disruption of routines” that weigh on coping with the disease pandemic has brought.
Emma Yhnell, Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience at Cardiff University, calls for more research into the impact of the pandemic on the brain.
“People develop habits so that we see friends on a certain day or exercise on a certain night – and that lack of regularity can be quite a challenge,” said Dr. Yhnell of the BBC.
“We know that people who have experienced chronic stress or chronic anxiety see some changes in their brains in the parts involved in decision making and attention,” she continued. “But we need a lot more research to determine whether the experience of the pandemic has led to structural changes in people’s brains.”
effects of chronic stress
In the winter of 2020-21, a study found that more than 40% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, “double the number from the previous year,” it said MIT Technology Review. People also reported “brain fog,” including symptoms such as forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.
Our experiences during the pandemic may have affected our brains’ neuroplasticity, the magazine said, a process that’s “vital for learning, memory and overall healthy brain function.”
“Every experience changes your brain, either helping you gain new synapses – the connections between brain cells – or causing you to lose them,” the magazine explained.
Emphasizethat many of us will have experienced during the pandemic can “not only destroy existing synapses, but also stunt the growth of new ones.”
When our stress reaches chronic levels, the brain can become flooded with chemicals called glucocorticoids, such as cortisol. Over the long term, this chemical can cause changes in our brains that “result in depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, and inattention.”
The social isolation caused by the pandemic may also have affected our brains. “Loneliness has been associated with decreased volume in the hippocampus and amygdala, and decreased connectivity in the prefrontal cortex,” said MIT Technology Review. “Perhaps not surprisingly, people who lived alone during the pandemic experienced higher rates of depression and anxiety.”
Although peer-reviewed studies on the impact of the pandemic on cognitive function are few, neuroscientists can extrapolate from previous work on trauma, boredom, stress and inactivity to the mammalian brain, they said The Atlantic last year.
A natural adaptation
“We all walk around with mild cognitive impairments,” Mike Yassa, a neuroscientist at the University of California Irvine, told the magazine. “Based on everything we know about the brain, two of the things that are really good for it are physical activity and novelty. What is very bad for this is chronic and ongoing stress.”
In a way, the “brain fog” and forgetfulness some people report could be “a natural adaptation” and “proof of our species’ resilience.”
“Our brains are very good at learning different things and forgetting things that aren’t a priority,” Tina Franklin, a neuroscientist at Georgia Institute of Technology, told The Atlantic.
The pandemic has significantly changed our routines and habits, dumping old habits like “taking buses and going to restaurants deeply” in our minds. But if our lives return to something we had before the pandemic, “presumably our memories will too,” the magazine said.
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/science-health/955960/what-the-pandemic-is-doing-to-our-brain What the pandemic is doing to our brains