The cogs are turning but they are turning ever so slowly. You slap your palms against your cheeks, hoping the sudden jolts would refocus your attention on the task: to read through a piece of report. It is relatively simple. Technically, all you have to do is, well, read. But your eyes trail over a string of words, line after line without making particular sense.
Occasionally, the cogs seem to dislodge. You walk to the kitchen for a glass of water to refresh yourself but – wait, what am I here for again?
Feeling like you just cannot think lately? A name to the symptom would be ‘brain fog’, or ‘pandemic brain’, as it recently came to be known. According to a neurology professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, brain fog can be caused by a range of factors, including isolation anxiety and lack of sleep. In turn, these feelings can “fatigue the brain, especially the frontal network, which contributes to memory, recall and attention.”
In other words, you cannot think or concentrate as well as before.
Rather than explaining it away as laziness, brain fog is a sign of the times – of more than a year of uncertainty and months of similitude following Covid-19. It is a sign that your brain is stressed, and/or craving new experiences to change up the characteristic plateau in much of our lives, since the pandemic began.
Hermits! Even you are not spared despite your natural aptitude for staying indoors alone (speaking as someone who is too, a hermit).
So how does one dispel this malaise that has been plaguing our minds? Here are a few ways:
An obvious one, but easier said than done: Exercise
Being cooped up at home has driven many of us out onto the streets. Turns out, being isolated at home for a very long time was the key.
The wide-ranging benefits of exercising goes without saying. Personally, a good 10 minutes is enough for the surging endorphins and dopamine to work their magic on my stress level and mental state. My mind comes out from a run feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day’s challenges.
Already exercising on the regular? Try the next suggestion for a novel experience.
Do something that you would never ordinarily do
Just like how some of us never thought of picking up a pair of running shoes until Singapore was faced with its version of a lockdown in April, last year, consider doing something you would not have imagined yourself doing before the pandemic started.
The key thing here is to try something never done before, something novel that would naturally trigger your brain to pick up speed. It does not have to be something out of the world.
For instance, reading. Never had the patience to sit down and read a book? Take one off the shelf, walk to the park and try immersing yourself in a fantastical world of fiction. To up the challenge, how about writing your own story set in the 2050s on how antibiotic resistant bacteria has run rampant, and humanity has only a few months to find a cure.
If reading is not your thing, try podcasts.
Tune in to hilariously candid (and also serious) conversations shared between best friends, or deep dives into specific current affairs topics. You could even attempt at recording one yourself – what do you wish to listen to that the burgeoning podcast scene has neglected so far?
Find new things to do within pandemic constraints and see if your mental clarity won’t come back.
Socialise… with your family!
We are social animals but restrictions on big gatherings, such as parties or university society activities, mean that the extroverts among us are unable to be the social butterfly they are. And perhaps, even introverts are not relishing the reduced social contact, either.
Long gone are the days of chatting up random strangers in a club, or visiting new places with friends. What do you do when your social life is just so stagnant? The solution could simply be a change of perspective: family – people we are with day in and out. An equally rich social life can come from our family too, we just need to know how.
Travelling is currently not possible, but we can still live vicariously through our parents and grandparents. Take a personal trip down memory lane with your loved ones. What sort of childhood or memorable events did they experience (read more about ways to buddy up with your grandparents)? Strengthen your connection with family members, but also gain a rich social life.
But, if new connections are what you are after, the next activity might just be the way for you to do so meaningfully.
Find a social cause close to your heart and work to its advance
What better way to meet people from all walks of life than to plunge yourself into the world of social service?
Covid-19 has laid bare the struggles of the most vulnerable groups around the world.
In Singapore, migrant workers are one such community. Since the dormitory outbreak last April, a myriad of ground-up initiatives have emerged to bridge the communication gap between healthcare workers and migrant workers speaking different languages and dialects, as well as raise funds for their mental health and legal casework support. Are there social issues or groups you think are underrepresented or underserved?
Fortunately, identifying a social cause close to your heart is made easy by A Good Space, Singapore’s first co-operative co-owned by 43 changemakers. Looking for causes to get behind? Browse through what each changemaker has brought to the table or even consider joining the co-operative as a member with a cause you have identified.
Exercising, doing something out of the ordinary, connecting with family and altruism are some ways to destress or add variety to your life again. But there’s still one more thing.
Re-introduce structure into your days/weeks
Many of us appreciate not having to travel for work or school, but the lack of environmental cues to signal when it is time to be #productive, and when to clock out is more damaging than we thought. It means that your brain is likely on overdrive from the moment you wake up until you sleep.
Structure underpinned our lives pre-pandemic, and the task now is to develop a new one befitting the times. Don’t have travelling and separate office spaces to compartmentalise work and home? Replace previous routines with a fixed sleep schedule, mealtimes, regular exercise, days for household chores, and the list goes on. But you get the gist.
Routine is there to make some bits of your day habituated, times when your brain does not have to think to know what to do. When it can often feel like an interminable race to get ahead of Covid-19 (due to emerging variants, despite the rising vaccination rate), having structure paces and braces us for this marathon. This calls for discipline to establish the new routine, but once you have it, may your mental clarity come back.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 is here to stay. But the physical, social and in turn mental stasis can be overcome. We just need time to slowly edge our brain out of the fog.
It is prudent to mention that brain fog is not comparable to how many others have been impacted by the pandemic, with lives lost and families broken. Yet, with everyone implicated in this global crisis, many are also experiencing brain fog and the repercussions of that.
Starting this weekend, try these five activities yourself, and see what you stand to gain from it.