For many of us, the lockdown has caused a multitude of issues. One I wanted to take a look at is brain fog. I’m not talking about what a COVID-19 patient can experience. Let’s look at us regular folks who are experiencing this due to the lockdown and everything that followed. It can really mess with our mental capacity.
What we call brain fog, Catherine Loveday, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Westminster, calls poor “cognitive function.” It covers everything from our memory, our attention span and our ability to problem-solve. It even reaches as far as our ability to be creative. She says, “It’s essentially our thinking process. Many people are telling me their memory is really poor and are reporting this cognitive fog.”
So why is this happening? Loveday explains: “The brain is stimulated by the new, the different, and this is known as the orienting response. We have effectively evolved to stop paying attention when nothing changes, but to pay particular attention when things do change.” Think about your last boring meeting. If someone walks into the room during that meeting, all eyes turn toward the door to check it out.
What can we do? Try changing things up. If you’re working from home, try changing your work space from one room to another. Only have one room? Change the decorations in that room. Need to take a call? Take it outside while you’re walking around. Anything to change up your viewpoint.
I used to tell my staff at the last television station where I worked that little changes will get you out of that fog rut and shake up your creative juices. Just move your wastepaper basket to the other side of your desk. Drive a different way to work or the grocery store. Even those little changes can have an impact on the way the brain processes memories.
According to Jon Simons, professor of neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, “Under lock down, our experiences lack distinctiveness – a crucial factor in pattern separation. Our memories are going to be difficult to differentiate. It’s likely that in a year or two, we’re going to look back on some particular event from this last year and say, when on earth did that happen?”
And the experts have weighed in on ZOOM burn-out, admitting it could have an impact on our concentration and attention. Loveday theorizes that the lower audio-visual quality could “create a bigger cognitive load for the brain, which has to fill in the gaps so you have to concentrate much harder.” I hear that and I understand our chamber members have that burn-out. But I am on the opposite side of the spectrum. In the pre-COVID days I could probably make it to one or two meetings in one day, driving all over town. With ZOOM, I can participate in three to five meetings per day. I’m loving it, but I think I am the exception.
So please, shake off the fog. Create some diversions that help you reboot and restore. Acknowledge that we need some time to recover. But we’re getting there. I am sticking with ZOOM. But I give you permission to kick ZOOM to the curb and get on with your lives…and I cannot wait to see you in person!
Lynne Conlan is Executive Director of the South Hillsborough Chamber of Commerce. Call her at 813-634-5111, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.