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Pandemic brain: how to get back on track

The end of lockdown is affecting us in different ways. Fatigue, lethargy and lack of focus all seem to be common symptoms.

Editor Jane Garton looks at simple ways to get your brain back on track.

Trouble concentrating, finding it hard to sleep, can’t remember a thing from one moment to the next? Are you not as sharp as you used to be or generally feeling overwhelmed? You could be experiencing pandemic brain – the name being given to a collection of symptoms many of us are experiencing as lockdown restrictions finally come to an end.

What is Pandemic Brain?

“This is not a brain disorder”, says Raquel Gur, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and radiology at the University of Pennsylvania who has been conducting an international study of personal resilience during the pandemic. “When the temporal limbic regions of the brain are active from being overwhelmed with worries and uncertainty, it’s harder for the part of your brain that lets you complete tasks to function,” she explains. The symptoms have also been described as like fogginess or a low-level depression that comes with being isolated or out of synch with your regular routine.

And it’s a widespread problem so it’s important to remember you are not alone.

So is there a solution? The key is to ask yourself: “What makes me feel better?” It could be running or meditating, but it could also be listening to music or even joining an online community.  Read on for some suggestions to power up your brain and get it firing on all cylinders.

Structure your day

Close up of woman writing in note pad

Draw up a daily routine to include a balance between work and leisure time. Jotting down a ‘to do’ list first thing in the morning or last thing at night to help prioritize things that need addressing can also be beneficial. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t stick to it. There’s always another day!

Give your sleep a make-over

Woman hugging pillow whilst sleeping in bed

Lack of or disrupted sleep patterns can slow down the brain’s ability to function at optimum levels. Aim for eight hours a night, stick to regular going-to-bed and getting-up times and keep electronic devices like ipads, mobiles and televisions outside the bedroom.

Work out your brain

Close up of a crossword

It’s not just your body that benefits from exercise, your brain will too. Try out some new hobbies, do the cryptic crossword, learn a new language or try your hand at board or card games.

Get moving

Close up of woman's trainers while out walking

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s all too easy to head for the fridge rather than the park or gym, but when it comes to increasing brainpower exercise is among the best things you can do. Any activity will help to clear your head but it’s best to go for something you enjoy – that way you are more likely to stick with it.  Joining up with a friend or colleague can help to keep you motivated.

Destress

Close jup of a woman reading a book by the fireside

 

Keep stressful moments to a minimum by engaging in relaxing activities like a hobby you love, listening to or watching something funny, or reading books you enjoy. Try having a warm, soothing bath, spend time with you pet, try some meditation or simply taking a walk around the block.

Be grateful

The word gratitude being typed with a typewriter

Numerous studies show that gratitude journaling can help to lift mood as well as benefitting mental health. So get yourself a notebook and before you go to bed jot down what has happened that day for which you are grateful.

Practise mindfulness

Young woman sitting in lotu position meditating and practicing mindfulness

Staying in the moment can help to stop you dwelling in the past as well as minimising negative thoughts popping up about the future. It can also instil calmness and slow down a racing mind.

Listen up

Woman listening to music with headphones and relaxing

Simply listening to music increases levels of the brain hormone oxytocin, which has been shown to increase feelings of empathy and goodwill. Music has also been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Singing or playing a musical instrument is also beneficial.

Avoid stimulants

Close up of a hand covering wine glass to indicate no wine thanks

However tempting, resist that extra glass of wine. It might dull the moment but in the long term too much alcohol can have negative effects on the brain and interfere with sleep, mood and clear thinking.

Supplement it

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha root, traditionally used in Ayurvedic healing, can help boost alertness. An eight-week study[i] involving 64 adults taking 300mg twice daily, found it reduced stress and anxiety. This in turn helped improve memory, reaction time, clarity and focus. Other brain-boosting herbal remedies to look out for include rhodiola, ginseng and ginkgo biloba.

 

[i] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22583804/

 

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