Cognitive function at risk due to “lock-down haze”

cognitive function, girl with long braid, blue shirt, looking fatigued

There are two dictionary definitions for the word “stasis” — one being “a period or state of inactivity or equilibrium.” A second standard definition for the same word is “civil strife.” For more than 12 months now in the United States, we’ve had both. There is mounting evidence that cognitive function is plummeting among the general population. Many people, including a biological psychiatry professor from King’s College London, believe that millions of people are experiencing “brain fog” as a result of the trauma. This trauma was sparked by lock-downs, isolation and restricted freedoms.

We all typically do mundane things on a daily basis. We commute to and from work, go shopping, socialize, pick kids up from school, go to the post office and more. It turns out that these menial tasks are, in fact, “the spice of life” that keeps us healthy. Many experts are speaking out. They say that there’s a strong connection between the lock-down-induced trauma of the past year and the mental/cognitive decline they see in their patients. One such expert is psychoanalyst Josh Cohen. Cohen says that his patients used to talk about myriad everyday happenings, such as weather, traffic or a rude person they’d encountered. Now, a majority of patients talk about feeling unable to function. They describe feelings of inability to concentrate. They struggle to mentally process things, such as TV programs or ZOOM meetings.

Studies show cognitive function improves when lock-down restrictions are lifted

cognitive function, woman with blonde hair, sunglassed, blue coat, smiling outdoors

Cohen explains that isolation forces people to live a “contracted life”.  He says that this has caused a “contracted mental capacity” among the masses.  A professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Cambridge says that people should know that their reactions are normal. Mass cognitive decline and feelings of anxiety are a natural reaction to the collective trauma society has endured in the past year. Another cognitive neuroscience professor from the University of Westminster says that many of her patients have been complaining about memory dysfunction and an overall sense of “brain fog.”

Several studies in various countries have tested participants’ cognitive functions during lock-down.  They were tested again when their restrictions were lifted. Results showed that cognitive abilities improved in direct relation to restrictions being lifted. People who started leaving their homes on a regular basis improved much faster than those who continued to stay home more often.

Failed cognitive function isn’t just about staying home

group of people playing charades, firepit

Many people are homebodies by nature. They like staying home and enjoy their own company. It doesn’t seem to impair their cognitive function. The cognitive and mental health decline occurring today has to do with more than just staying home. It’s about staying home and being completely isolated from everyday life. People aren’t running errands, seeing other human beings or even, sitting in traffic.

Losing common, everyday interaction with other human beings has a negative effect on brain function. So does facing a barrage of bad news on television day in and day out. When nothing changes from day to day, our brains sort of’ ‘stop paying attention’ to life. Professor Loveday makes some practical suggestions for helping to combat this cognitive function decline. For instance, a person working from home can attend a ZOOM meeting outdoors for a change of scenery. (I’m sure the fresh air and sunshine would also help boost brain health. In fact, it may help prevent illness because viruses and bacteria thrive in closed-in spaces. It’s always safer (healthier) to be outdoors.)

People’s brains are in distress

woman in white medical coat, blue gloves, holding chart showing images of brain

Cognitive health, biological function and emotional well-being are each unique yet closely intertwined. Biological psychiatrist Carmine Pariante says that people are experiencing the brain equivalent of emotional distress. It’s as if our brains are sad and pining for a return to normal, everyday life. This sadness is presenting itself through symptoms of cognitive impairment. Pariante coined the term “lock-down haze” to describe the situation. He believes it is a direct result of lock-down stress.

Our brains experience stress and immediately send messages to our endocrine and immune systems. Pariante says that what is happening now is similar to what would happen to ancient man when fearing being attacked by animal predators. The brain switches gears and focuses ONLY on the predator in order to survive. In doing so, however, it becomes unable to focus on other things. (Think about that for a moment, will you? Who or what is the predator in our current circumstances?)

Sigmund Freud wrote about cognitive function and “life instincts”

cognitive function, sigmund freud

While Sigmund Freud is known from some theories that are quite bizarre, his belief in two distinct “life instincts” is interesting. It also applies to the topic of cognitive function decline during lock-down. Freud basically thought that we have two driving forces within us. One force drives us toward life and the other toward death. At any given moment, we are subconsciously or consciously striving toward one or the other instinct. The life instinct is stimulated by our experiences, interactions with others, use of creative thinking and more. If our desire toward life atrophies (which can happen as a result of mental trauma or stress) the death instinct takes over. We basically “give up on life” and stop living. The early stages of this mindset shows itself through cognitive decline.

Upon reading about Freud’s theories in this article, I became convinced that he was ahead of his time in discovering Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) without actually giving it a name. In essence, the increase of cognitive impairment millions of people are suffering due to collective trauma of the past year has created a PTSD-like condition throughout the world.

Improve brain health and strive toward life

cognitive function, woman with arms outstretched overhead, smiling, sunflowers

I am a firm believer that God created the human body with a tremendous capacity to heal itself, physically, emotionally and mentally. It’s worth asking why some people do not appear to have suffered the cognitive function impairment that seems to currently be prolific throughout the world. Could it be that those who have resisted tyrannical orders to lock down, wear masks and stop living normal lives have not experienced as much mental trauma as others? The good news is that there are many ways to improve brain health and mood. In addition to the ideas included in the following list, you can check out these past posts here and here on the Hot Mess Press:

  • Make it a priority to spend time outdoors in fresh air and sunshine every day.
  • Keep your brain stimulated with positive ideas and activities that are NOT current events-related.
  • Make homemade meals that bring back good memories from childhood or times you’ve shared with family.
  • Stay connected and interact with people. Even if the local pub is closed, you can invite friends to your home!
  • Arrange learning groups or outdoor field trips with other families if your children are missing their school friends.
  • Use games such as crossword puzzles, word search or Sudoku to challenge your brain.

It is your choice to stay inside your home on lock down. You might choose to return to everyday life as much as possible while government entities and others continue to impose restrictions. Be aware that if you stay isolated and locked-down for an extended period of time, you may be at risk for cognitive impairment. Hopefully, the ideas in this post, as well as other resources can help you maintain optimum cognitive function and overall mental, emotional and physical good health in the months ahead.

 

 

 

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