Feeling loopy? The coronavirus pandemic has continued to disrupt our lives and it has taken a toll on us — emotionally, mentally and physically. A year of being isolated at home has made people more stressed, anxious and fearful of what the future may look like. Due to the social distancing measures in place, we haven’t been able to resume the activities we’re used to doing, so we’re not actively engaging our brains.
Instead, our brains feel fuzzy and it’s slowing us down. We may be taking longer to do tasks or forgetting them altogether.
“Brain fog is used to describe feelings of exhaustion, confusion and lack of concentration,” said Jessica Gold, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Brain fog, also described as quarantine brain, is actually how your brain is responding to all the chaos that’s going on right now, Gold said. “There’s only so much our brains and bodies can handle living in a state of uncertainty for the past year,” she said. Understand that you’re not alone and that it’s completely normal to be feeling this way.
Luckily, there are some ways to get rid of some of your brain fog symptoms and increase your mental clarity. Here’s what you can do:
Chances are, you’re working continuously if you’re doing most of your activities at home. The pandemic makes us feel like our days are blended together and it may feel like you’re working all day if there’s no sense of time.
Take care of yourself by taking breaks often. When you start to feel overworked or exhausted, pause and step away from your screen for a moment. “While taking a break, make sure you’re doing something that is not work-related to allow your brain to rest and recover,” Gold said.
Go on a walk with friends, take a spontaneous coffee break, or phone a family member. Consider taking more vacations and time off work. Find ways to stimulate your mind and improve your mood through activities that make you happy.
Try a mindfulness exercise
Mindfulness can help us regain the focus, concentration and alertness from our brain fog. By being aware of the present moment, we can calm our mind and body, which has been in “survival mode” during this crisis.
“Mindfulness meditation quiets your mind, but it also removes the mental ‘cobwebs,’ creating a sense of awakening in your brain. This break on our brains allows it to reboot and be effective,” said Cynthia Catchings, a licensed therapist at Talkspace.
Carve out some time for mindfulness each day, whether it’s doing a meditation or deep breathing practice. If you’re looking for more physical activity, try an online or in-person yoga class.
Socialize with others
If you’ve been staying at home for the past year, chances are you’ve not had much social interaction with others in-person. The good news is that fully vaccinated people can now engage in gatherings with other people.
“Lifting some of the strict restrictions we’ve been tied to for the past year can help reduce the brain fog. If you have been disconnected for a year, now you can safely ease back into socializing with others,” Gold said.
She suggested making plans with other people ― whether it’s going for a walk together or doing a lunch date. Taking this slowly and steadily will not only help with all that numbness but also help with transitioning back into this “new normal.”
Get a good night’s sleep
The amount of shut-eye you get every night has a tremendous impact on your overall health and well-being. The extreme stress caused by the pandemic may be leading to a lot of sleepless nights.
“Sleep gives us the restoration our body needs in order to pay attention and think better,” Catchings said.
While it’s easier said than done, try to get at least six to eight hours of sleep at night. It may be helpful to build a consistent sleep and wake schedule, limit your screen time before bed, and do something relaxing, like taking a warm bath, in the evening to make sure you get a good night’s rest.
Rebuild your routine
During the earlier months of the pandemic, you may have attempted or even started a routine to provide some structure to your days. Now, that routine may seem tedious and tiresome as you continue to do it over and over again. That can leave your mind feeling fuzzy or as if you’re just rolling through the motions.
Try to incorporate joy-induced activities in your routine that you will look forward to throughout the week, Gold said. She suggested doing a “fake commute” if you once commuted to work, which entails replacing that time you had for commuting to work with a long walk or drive. By drawing a fine line through your personal and professional life, you are restoring that work-life balance and engaging your brain in a different way.
Engage in positive self-talk
It’s normal to feel completely out of it right now. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
“Give yourself some grace. Tell yourself that it’s OK to be adjusting to all of this and that it’s OK to be feeling what you’re feeling,” Gold said.
Whenever you don’t have the brain power to devote to any task, give yourself some positive self-talk and validate what you’re feeling. This inner support can combat some of that anxiousness and self-doubt.
Talk to a mental health professional
If brain fog is inhibiting your ability to get through the day, it’s probably time to get some help. Consider scheduling an appointment to connect with a mental health professional now. (And if cost is a barrier, online therapy services like BetterHelp and Talkspace are more affordable options.)
“A mental health professional like a psychiatrist or therapist will work with you to manage your brain fog. We’re here for you and will help you get better,” Gold said.