COVID Brain is Real, and You Can Fight It

COVID-19 has had a pretty dramatic effect on the world, but its influence may reach farther than you think. That feeling of brain fog or fuzzy thinking might actually be a result of the pandemic—no, not a symptom of the virus, but rather the “new normal” that we are living in. According to an article written by Hilke Plassmann and Benjamin Kessler of INSEAD, the phenomena of “COVID Brain” is real, and needs to be addressed.

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The effects of COVID Brain

“In times like these,” writes Plassmann, “our brains tend to work differently. The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for complex planning, working memory, and analytical thinking, is swamped with ambiguous signals, impacting our decision-making abilities. Meanwhile, the brain scours its long-term memory systems for comparable experiences. Finding few precedents for this pandemic, it looks intently outward for guidance on what to do next. The combination of impaired analytical thinking and heightened external sensitivity creates what can be called ‘COVID-19 brain’—a fragile, frazzled state that keeps our thoughts simultaneously on edge and unfocused.”

With no end to the restrictions brought on by the pandemic in sight, how do you battle COVID brain? Plassman offers three suggestions. First, change how you look at stress. Rather than viewing it as a negative, think of it as being helpful to getting you to adapt to new situations. “Regarding stress as a catalyst for positive change rather than a threat, for example, can promote clearer thoughts and keep negative emotions at bay,” writes Plassmann. Music is another handy tool. “Something as simple as listening to music can restore our equilibrium,” states Plassmann. And finally, meditation can be very helpful. “Exercises such as focusing on breathing can help regulate brain activity at will,” explains Plassmann. If you’re walking around in a COVID brain fog, you might want to give these three suggestions a try. But you don’t want to just ignore it and hope it will pass. Neuroplasticity posits that our brains change based on how they are being used. “This basic idea of neuroplasticity—that our brain changes according to how we routinely use it—means that how we cope with COVID-19 brain has implications that will outlast this crisis,” warns Plassmann. “It is worth devoting conscious attention to developing healthy mental habits, with the knowledge that it will only get easier with time.”

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