Covid-19 turned the world upside down two long years ago, and the omicron variant gives us something new to fear for the coming year. Meanwhile, the pandemic still prompts people to withdraw from social activities, and many continue to work from home, weekdays turning into weekends month after month.
With all this stress, social isolation, and disruption, it’s no wonder you feel the effects, even if you’re more dizzy or distracted. Perhaps you have found yourself unable to remember a common term, the day, or the reason you entered a room. Experts say prolonged stress can affect people’s daily memory and cognitive skills.
“If we are under a lot of stress, it can sometimes have a very negative impact on information retrieval,” said Daniel Schacter, professor of psychology and director of the Schacter Memory Lab at Harvard University. He is also the author of “The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers”.
One of the effects is “blocking,” where information is available in memory but we can’t retrieve it when we want it to, Schacter said.
“The tip of the tongue phenomenon that we all know would be an example of a blockage,” he said. “Good research shows that people, if you put them in a stressful situation, will have more recovery and tongue spike blocking experiences.”
Another effect is the distraction, he said, which is “when there is some kind of breakdown at the interface of attention and memory, and we forget to do things because we are not. not really focused “. This could potentially happen if someone is very worried about Covid, he said.
Not everyone will experience these effects, noted Schacter. It may depend on how much people experience pandemic stress: “If Covid is taking up a lot of cognitive space, if you think about it or worry about it a lot,” he said. “And it can vary, for example, when we hear about a new variant like omicron. It might increase stress and distraction a bit. “
Stress combined with fatigue, boredom and isolation are very detrimental to our growth and cognitive development.
Psychotherapist Ani Kalayjian
Just as people are affected differently by stress, so do people cope with different ways, said psychologist Alison Holman, a stress researcher and professor at the University of California, Irvine.
“We should never think that you can throw all human beings in the same bucket and say that’s how they’re going to get away, because there is no one way everyone’s doing it. ‘get out of it,’ she said.
Fortunately, according to experts, there are various strategies people can try to help reduce pandemic stress and sharpen memory skills, including the following.
Socialize, even from a distance
People are social creatures, and all of this social distancing can take a toll on our mental health and memory function, said Ani Kalayjian, a psychotherapist in Cliffside Park, New Jersey.
“Stress combined with fatigue, boredom, and isolation are very detrimental to our growth and cognitive development,” she said.
If you aren’t entertaining friends or chatting with coworkers at the water cooler, you still have to make an effort to have human interaction, she stressed. It could just mean talking on the phone with family members or going for walks with friends outside.
Nature walks can be especially helpful, Kalayjian said.
“Being in nature with the sun, and if there is no sun, just the fresh air is very healing,” she said. “And you exercise, which helps relax the nervous system. This anxiety goes away when you exercise physically.
Enjoy your weekends
If you work from home, those weekdays can easily blend into the weekends, creating a lot of blur.
“A lot of my clients talk about ‘Groundhog Day’, that every day is the same, like they have to look and put a circle on their calendar to find out what day it is because it’s so repetitive,” Kalayjian said.
Try to break that routine by making an effort to mix things up, she said.
“Make sure you do things differently on the weekends, especially if your weekdays are monotonous because you’re on Zoom all day,” she said. “Break this monotony. “
Prepare to succeed
“I think a lot of distractions can be countered by trying to structure your surroundings,” Schacter said. “So, for example, the common distracted forgetfulness would be not remembering where you put your keys or your glasses. And one way to try to structure the environment to overcome that would be to define a particular place where you always place these objects.
If you’re having trouble remembering appointments or other actions you need to take at set times, put handy reminders in your phone, Schacter advised.
Write a to-do list
If you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by the pandemic life, you may find it difficult to concentrate well or focus your attention on one thing in particular, said psychologist Lily Brown, director of the Center for Treatment and Study. of anxiety from the University of Pennsylvania.
“That’s because these activities usually require a ton of brainpower,” she said. “And I think if your reserves are depleted, you just won’t have it.”
One way to deal with feeling overwhelmed with everything you have to do is to jot everything down on a list, Brown said.
“So if I find myself sitting in front of my computer drifting out the window and it’s really hard to concentrate right now, let me look at my list and do the next thing on the list instead of having to make tons of decisions. ” she said. “Right now, a lot of people feel like they are overwhelmed with decisions to make. “
“Fear can impact our memory,” Kalayjian said. “A lot of fear closes us and doesn’t help us remember things.”
To counter fear and negative thoughts, she recommended meditation.
“Meditation gives us positive ideas, positive energy and a calm mind,” she said. “It allays worries and fears. “
“The pandemic has totally changed our sense of time,” said Holman. This can cause people to lose sight of the day or time of day.
“If you’re in a really stressful situation the first thing you’re going to do is try to figure out ‘What should I do to deal with this immediate situation in my present moment?’ So you are very focused on the present, ”she said.
But normally people also look to the future: we make plans for later in the day, the weekend or the summer vacation, and that can bring us joy. If you’ve just lived in the present moment, it’s important to start looking to the future again, said Holman.
“Even though that means setting very small future goals and working towards them, I think it’s a very important part of bringing back a sense of normalcy,” she said.