The first two weeks of January have been a bumpy ride. Between the on-again, off-again restrictive orders and the ever-increasing numbers of people out sick, it feels like a thick cloud is hanging over everyone.
As I was walking past Anne’s door, I heard her say,
“Yes, we all have COVID brain.”
Later when I asked her what she meant by that, she gave a big sigh.
“It seems that everyone in my circle is having difficulties concentrating and carrying on a conversation. We can’t find the word we want, or the name of someone we know; what we say is not what we meant to say and sometimes we even lose track of what we were talking about.
“It’s very distressing and one of my young colleagues came very close to tears when she lost her ‘train of thought’ in the middle of an online presentation.
“I suppose I shouldn’t call it COVID Brain as one of the symptoms of Covid-19 is brain fog and the people I am talking about have not been ill.
"A better name would be isolation brain.
“There is considerable research indicating that social isolation leads to impaired brain function. And, it is cumulative in the sense that the more difficulties we have, the more we self-isolate."
I am confused now. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“When we are isolated from interacting with other people, our brain function declines. We forget why we went into the kitchen. Make a “to-do” list and forget where we put it. Can’t find our words. Say Tuesday when we mean Thursday. Read a page and can’t remember anything about it.
“For some, it is so embarrassing that they withdraw even further into themselves, avoid conversations and the foggy isolation brain gets worse.
“The good news is that the foggy, isolation brain can be reversed! The more conversations we have, the more we socialize by phone or video and most especially when we can get together in person, our brains recover – so, there is hope for better days ahead!
“In the meantime, we need to make allowances for one another. Listen with the understanding that we may be asked, “Where was I going with that?” and help our colleague find their way back to the point they were making.
“If someone cannot find the word(s) they are looking for, don’t jump in, give them a moment. If they still can’t find it, reassure them that they are not alone and move on. Often it doesn’t matter to the story anyway.”
This all sounds very debilitating – confidence robbing. “What do you do when it happens to you?” I asked.
Anne chuckled. “Let’s start with what I don’t do. I don’t allow myself to say negative things about myself about my competence or capabilities.
“I don’t allow myself to get angry or frustrated, either.
“What I find works is to take a deep breath and relax for a moment. Then, if I don’t remember, I shrug and remind myself that whatever word I was searching for will likely come back in the middle of the night.
“I make sure to have at least one conversation a day. And I have started to play word games including crossword puzzles to stimulate my brain.
“Getting outside for a walk in the fresh air helps to clear away the fog and helps with physical fitness.
“Most of all, I am kind to myself.”
We all need to be kind, compassionate, patient and encouraging with ourselves and with each other as we adapt to the current reality of social isolation.
Please note: Anne is not making any medical diagnosis here. If you are concerned, you should consult a physician.