During the epidemic, you’re not alone if you’ve found yourself saying things like “My memory isn’t what it used to be,” “I’m so worn down all the time,” or “I feel unmotivated.” Many of us are experiencing unpleasant cognitive changes such as forgetfulness, fatigue, lack of enthusiasm, and brain fog as the fight against COVID-19 enters its second year.
Emotional wellness practitioners have begun calling this mental malaise “pandemic brain,” and it’s often caused by living through the ongoing stress of a global health emergency. For over a year, we’ve worried about our health and our loved ones, monitored safety guidelines, navigated a flagging economy, and missed out on social activities that once brought us joy.
Even for those who do not have a documented emotional wellness issue, the cumulative impact of prolonged stress can cause a variety of symptoms.
While vaccines provide hope for an end to the epidemic, we are still dealing with pandemic brain. If you’re having trouble dealing with these or other symptoms, acquire coping methods and, if required, seek professional help.
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How and why do we become ill as a result of persistent stress?
It’s helpful to know how the brain reacts to stress in order to comprehend pandemic brain.
When confronted with a threat, the human brain activates an alert system. The process starts in the amygdala, the brain’s basic “fear centre,” which then sends a signal to the hypothalamus. Our adrenal glands are activated, and adrenaline, the hormone released during the fight, flight, or freeze reaction, is produced. The hypothalamus next creates corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which instructs the pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol, a key stress hormone.
Because the body isn’t designed to be in a state of dread permanently, the nervous system encourages the body to recuperate once the threat has passed. Your heartbeat and breathing will slow as a result of nerves in the brainstem and spinal cord. Your muscles will relax, allowing you to reclaim your energy.
Unfortunately, the epidemic has created long-term pressures that are not easily resolved. As a result, we are constantly bombarded with stress chemicals, with no time to recover, resulting in mental and physical tiredness. It’s no surprise that our brains are exhausted after a stressful year.
Suggestions for promoting emotional wellness resiliency
There are, fortunately, effective methods for reducing the consequences of chronic stress. You may interrupt your nervous system’s stress response and spend more time in the recovery stage of the cycle, even if you can’t control what’s going on around you.
The following three critical areas are where the stress response is disrupted.
The body: Promote relaxation
Learning to employ the body’s innate calming mechanisms is the first step in managing chronic stress. Relaxation training is a series of behavioural practises that can help you trigger your body’s relaxing reaction. This exercise can help you maintain calmer emotions by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, relieving tense muscles and headaches, and lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.
To begin, deep breathing will signal your brain to relax. Controlling your breathing rate provides relaxing input to your brain.
Inhale deeply for four seconds through your nose.
Take a deep breath and hold it for seven seconds.
Exhale for a total of eight seconds.
Why did you take such a long exhale? Anxiety causes you to hold your breath unintentionally, resulting in shallow breaths, which puts your brain in fear mode. Long exhales completely empty your lungs and encourage a deeper inhalation, which communicates to the brain that it is safe and resting.
After that, use progressive muscle relaxation to assist your muscles relax (PMR). Your neurological system will relax as your muscles relax.
Deeply inhale while contracting a muscle region, such as your shoulders, tummy, or face.
For a total of 10 seconds, tighten your fists.
Exhale slowly, allowing the muscles to relax completely.
After a brief rest, switch to a different muscle group and repeat the exercise.
Continue for five to ten minutes, alternating between muscle groups. This activity is beneficial for relieving tension in the body, but it is not recommended for people who have acute or chronic pain.
Attention: Becoming mindful
The physical stress response isn’t the sole factor; your thoughts play a role as well. Because your emotions follow your attention, shifting your focus away from stressors might help relieve chronic stress. This can be accomplished by practising mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the present-moment awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings. When you’re attentive, you’re not thinking about the past or worrying about the future; instead, you’re focused on the present now.
To attain mindfulness, follow these steps:
Concentrate on your breathing (deep breathing) and other bodily sensations. If you’re sitting in a chair, pay attention to how it feels. Feel the ground beneath your feet if you’re strolling about. Become completely sensitive to the current moment.
Begin to pay attention to your ideas and feelings. Right now, where are your thoughts taking you? What emotional and physical feelings are triggered by these thoughts?
It’s fine if your thoughts stray. Recognize this and gently bring your focus back to the current moment.
Remember, the idea isn’t to chastise yourself for worrying or to dismiss any of your emotions. Simply said, the idea is to become more conscious of your thoughts. Keep an eye on them. Become interested in them. Assume the role of a scientist taking notes.
Incorporating mindfulness into one’s day-to-day life
Developing mindfulness skills can help you in two ways in your daily life.
For starters, mindfulness can assist you in making better use of your free time. We all fall into autopilot mode from time to time, zoning out on social media or wasting time fretting about an issue, but these behaviours do not promote emotional wellness . Mindfulness aids in the recognition of these tendencies, allowing you to seek out healthier, more nourishing time fillers: Instead, you may use your free time to relax, nap, interact with loved ones, exercise, or pursue a beloved interest.
Second, mindfulness can assist you in focusing your attention on something other than yourself. Rumination and worry are inherently self-centered. While you should look after your personal needs, being completely focused on yourself with no external distractions can make you feel even worse. Mindfulness draws your attention to people and things outside of oneself, such as friends, neighbours, volunteer work, or a cause you care about. This larger viewpoint is beneficial to mental wellness.
Take action that is productive.
It’s time to take action against chronic stress when you’ve relaxed your body and mind. This entails becoming more aware of your emotions and approaching them with greater intention.
To begin, practise emotional regulation and learn to reduce the intensity of distressing negative feelings. Goal-directed conduct, or activity that takes you closer to what you need or want, will be easier to achieve with emotional regulation. You may paradoxically damage your own best interests when your emotions trigger knee-jerk reactions. Emotional regulation can also aid in the prevention of harmful or risky behaviours, such as substance abuse.
Consider using the opposite action technique when negative emotions overwhelm you. This means that if a powerful feeling tempts you to act in a certain way, it may be wiser to deliberately act in the other direction. If your anxiety pushes you to avoid unpleasant circumstances, for example, consider confronting those events head-on instead, as avoidance can prolong or even intensify the fear. If sadness makes you want to isolate yourself, do the opposite and seek aid from a buddy. If you want to vent your frustrations on a coworker, hold your calm and learn more about their point of view.
Keeping this in mind, coping with negative emotions is only half the battle. The other half entails the development of good emotions.
Remember the ABCs to promote pleasant emotions:
Make plans to do things you enjoy, such as watching a favourite movie or calling a buddy.
Develop mastery by engaging in an activity that you like and that provides you a sense of accomplishment, such as a hobby.
Prepare ahead of time by making a strategy for what to do if your emotions get overwhelming. It’s a good idea to write down your strategy and keep it on hand in case you need it.
How can expert assistance assist you?
Self-care isn’t always enough. How can you decide if you should manage your pandemic brain on your own or seek professional assistance?
These indications imply that professional emotional wellness care are required:
Your daily feelings are now significantly more negative than they were before the outbreak.
You’ve tried healthy coping tactics like the ones listed here, but they’re not working for you.
You’re too upset or overwhelmed to make any changes to your way of thinking or behaviour.
Consider seeking help if you’re suffering any of the aforementioned symptoms. A qualified emotional wellness expert can assist you in sorting through your symptoms, challenging unhelpful thinking, gaining a fresh perspective, and learning mood and behaviour management techniques. An emotional wellness professional can also assist you in improving your relationships, which is an important component of mental wellness. Professional assistance can give the structure and accountability you require to achieve positive changes. It’s been a difficult year–you don’t have to go through it alone.