Previously, psychotherapist Joan Kingsley explained what our brains are doing to cope with the pandemic and lockdown and why we feel so afraid. This time she looks at the many other symptoms of lockdown brain. Anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness, lack of concentration and the constant need to eat chocolate and sugary treats.
You can read the first part here:
Why am I so anxious and stressed?
Anxiety and stress are fear-based feelings. The brain copes remarkably well with low levels of anxiety and stress but high levels of anxiety and stress may linger long after the immediate threat has gone.
In order to keep anxiety and stress at manageable levels it is important to create and stick to a daily routine.
Exercise such as walking, yoga, and/or stretching is essential to keep stress at bay
Engaging in creative activities such as cooking, learning to play the piano, or learning to play bridge help lower stress levels. You can soothe the mind practicing mindfulness, meditation, or listening to music. There are many activities to choose from and it’s important to do the things that challenge you and give you joy.
Why am I so forgetful?
Ellen Cushing (www.theatlantic.com) cites research by Tina Franklin, a neuroscientist at Georgia Tech – “Living through a pandemic—even for those who are doing so in relative comfort—’is exposing people to microdoses of unpredictable stress all the time,’.
Franklin’s research has shown that stress changes the brain regions that control executive function, learning, and memory.
The brain likes to forget pain
Forgetting is a protective device to help us not be negatively affected by dreadful experiences. The goal of the brain is to protect you by helping you avoid harmful memories. That means the brain will bundle associated things together and store them deep in the non-conscious attic regions of the brain.
If you’re trying hard to remember something that just keeps slipping out of your grasp, then think about something else. Your remarkable brain will keep working on the problem and suddenly come up the name, or place or date that kept eluding.
If I’m so tired, why am I having problems sleeping?
During prolong periods of danger, the brain is on high alert all the time and, like a radar system, is scanning the external world for threats 24 hours a day whether you’re awake or asleep. Being in a constant state of vigilance, the brain is using a great deal of energy. It’s exhausting. Don’t fight the tiredness. When you’re feeling like you’ve run out of steam, sit down and take a break.
An afternoon nap is particularly refreshing and revitalizing
If you wake up in the early hours, don’t toss and turn. Turn the lights on and read a book. That should take your thoughts away from worrying and helps lull you back to sleep. Whatever you do, don’t check your phone, don’t look at your email. That completely wakes the brain up and there is little hope you’ll settle back to sleep.
Why can’t I concentrate on anything?
The pandemic means we have all been living with excessive and persistent levels of fear that create changes in brain function that then interfere with decision-making processes.
A neuropsychiatry study found that learning a new skill could improve concentration levels. Knitting, crossword puzzles, sudoku, jigsaw puzzles are especially good for this, since these get you focused as they require you to use many parts of the brain at the same time.
Why am I eating so much chocolate?
The brain loves chocolate. Chocolate raises levels of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin – the neurotransmitters responsible for making you feel happy. Chocolate can also help boost your memory. Try and limit chocolate consumption to tea-time. That’s the time of day blood sugar levels drop. Treating yourself to a bit of chocolate will give your energy a boost and make you feel happy. But if you overdo the chocolate that could have the opposite effect. And avoid eating chocolate and sugary foods after dinner as they are stimulants that can interfere with sleep.
One year on you might be surprised to be feeling anxious about the lifting of restrictions and coming out of lockdown. Having worked out strategies for surviving the dangers of Covid-19, the brain has to rethink what is safe and what is not safe moving forward. Uncertainty about the future is always a cause for concern and your brain needs time to adjust and adapt to changing circumstances. In consequence you are likely to feel stressed and worried.
Because the brain retains its ability to learn, develop and adapt throughout the lifespan, you will almost certainly make the adjustments necessary to get re-engage with family and friends and ‘the new normal’.