It Is Wonderful It Is Not Only Boomers Who Feel Like We Are Losing It During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Three Top Tips for Counteracting The Fog We Are Feeling

Groundhog_Day_(movie_poster)My friends and I who are Boomers keep sharing that we cannot remember what day it is and what we did yesterday, much less last week or last month. We share going to another room for a reason and then forgetting why we are there. We share that we cannot remember whether it is Sunday or Wednesday.  We share that something that happened last month feels like it was yesterday. PopPop kept saying he was getting worried about me losing it until he realized he could also be talking about himself. I cannot remember what I cannot remember.

I am fortunate to have children and grandchildren, and friends younger and much younger. I think I forgot to ask them if their days were blending into each other, or maybe just assumed they had responsibilities and more structure.  But, with no school and everyone working from home, time disappears and days just blend into each other.  I never saw the movie, Groundhog Day, but keep hearing it is relevant to what we are feeling during this pandemic.   According to Wikipedia, “ . . . [Bill] Murray portrays Phil Connors, a cynical TV weatherman covering an annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, who becomes trapped in a time loop forcing him to relive February 2 repeatedly. . . .the term “Groundhog Day” became part of the English lexicon as a means to describe a monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation.”   Yes, that is where we are with the COVID-19 pandemic. I highlighted and underlined the description on purpose.  PopPop and I keep repeating that we should watch the movie, but we keep forgetting to do so.

I asked one friend a decade younger as to whether she is also in a time warp and fog.  She told me the many ways she is coping with the pandemic and the uncertainty of when this will all end.

She advised me, of course, as we share perspectives of our different generational coping mechanisms.  It seems that we both have been trying to adapt to this strange, complex, and difficult time.  Doing yoga most mornings gives structure to my day, as well as lessening my anxiety and bringing calm.  I have given you the website for My Yoga Source, a yoga studio in South Florida, doing Zoom yoga, meditation, and breathing classes of every kind.  There are people in my Zoom yoga classes from all over the United States.  The teachers are great.  There is a new student package which gives you three weeks of unlimited classes of every kind for $39.  If you have never tried yoga before, try a simple slow yoga flow class with Corrine.  If you want excellent step by step yoga demonstration that includes going to challenging poses made simple, try a hatha yoga class with Tamara.  Since Corrine is now also doing in studio classes, make sure you are signing up for Zoom.  Try the classes.  What else can give structure to the days flowing into one another with the added bonus of dealing with pandemic fog brain!

My younger friend kept giving me more and more suggestions.  Now I know how I must sound to her.  In this COVID-19 time, more than in times past, if I do not immediately write something down, the thought is gone forever.  I used to be able to retrieve the thoughts later, now not so much.  I could not remember the rest of what she offered, until I happened upon an on line article that cleared up so much about our mutual fogginess!  What we are feeling has a name, “COVID brain.”

I found the article on the Flipboard App, which application was shared by a colleague. By the way, if you have not downloaded the App for FLIPBOARD, consider doing so.  It has a great compilation of news from what seems like every source on every issue, and you choose the issues you want news about.  Flipboard lead me to the source of the article, INC.com.

We all are not suffering an unknown malaise.  Read, “Neuroscientist: Covid Brain Is Real. Here’s How to Deal With It Feeling mentally fuzzy? A scientist explains the mechanics of why you’re struggling to think straight during the pandemic,” by Jessica Stillman, INC contributor.

Jessica Stillman reports that INSEAD (French for ‘”European Institute of Business Administration”‘) neuroscientists Hilke Plassmann and Benjamin Kessler call our fog brain  “COVID-19 brain.” Although this blog post is about COVID-19 brain, their article on the INSEAD website about other psychological consequences of the coronavirus explains much about the current climate of scapegoating and worsening societal problems such as obesity and how inequality affects it, also worth a read.

These neuroscientists describe the psychological phenomenon of COVID-19 brain and its physiological roots:

“In times like these, our brains tend to work differently. The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for complex planning, working memory, and analytical thinking, is swamped with ambiguous signals, impacting our decision-making abilities. Meanwhile, the brain scours its long-term memory systems for comparable experiences. Finding few precedents for this pandemic, it looks intently outward for guidance on what to do next. The combination of impaired analytical thinking and heightened external sensitivity creates what can be called “Covid-19 brain”–a fragile, frazzled state that keeps our thoughts simultaneously on edge and unfocused.”

Yes, that explains fog brain—frazzled and unfocused.  Fortunately for us, neuroscientists Hilke Plassmann and Benjamin Kessler give us three concrete tips for counteracting the fog we are experiencing.  When I read them, I realized that they mirrored what my younger friend recommended, and she is a lawyer, not a neuroscientist.

I. REFOCUS HOW WE THINK ABOUT THE STRESS WE ARE FEELING.

At page 23 of the conclusion of the draft of a Stanford University study given to us in a link to the article, we learn that knowing we should shift from negativity to stress to stress as a challenge to overcome will not reduce our negative emotions, but changing our thoughts and mindset about the stress we are experiencing will.  “The Role of Stress Mindset in Shaping Cognitive, Emotional, and Physiological Responses to Challenging and Threatening Stress.” 

I really think that study conclusion means that we should distract our brains, just like we distract a two year old grandchild away from a danger when he is about to hurt himself, or maybe the neuroscientists’ explanation may make sense of and to our fog brains:

“A whole body of research shows that generally it’s not our stress that harms us. It’s how we think about our stress. If you expect your body’s natural response to a challenge to be harmful, then it will be. If you conceptualize stress as a helpful adaptation to dealing with tough times, it causes less mental and physical harm. According to Plassmann, this is especially true during a pandemic. “Regarding stress as a catalyst for positive change rather than a threat, for example, can promote clearer thoughts and keep negative emotions at bay,” she says.”

I have learned to play canasta and mah jongg on line (Canasta Junction and Real Mah Jongg Apps.  I recommend both).  I hope that is positive change enough for now.

II. LISTEN TO MUSIC, NOT JUST ANY MUSIC, LO-FI

Scientific studies show that music changes our moods, and now we are told we can control our fog brain by listening to music.  Neuroscientists Hilke Plassmann and Benjamin Kessler say:

“Something as simple as listening to music can restore our equilibrium. Indeed, one study linked emotions induced through music to activity in brain networks that are essential for generation and regulation of emotions. Playing music in the background while working can also bolster productivity in times of stress by sustaining mental attention and sharpening focus,” Plassmann says.”

It is a concept of “cocooning” to “Lo-fi [which] wraps you in predictable, soft sound, protecting your thinking from the unpredictable and harsh outside world. That helps you relax and focus. You get more done as a result.”

Read more at “Struggling to Tame Your Stress and Concentrate? Science Suggests This Type of Music: Concentrating on your work is hard at the moment. Lo-fi really will help you chill out and get more done,” by Jessica Stillman. Apparently 5.5 million subscribers have already discovered the benefit of this at popular YouTube channel, ChilledCow,   I listened to it live and understand.  You can get one month free.

Yes, listening to Lo-Fi is peaceful, relaxing and soothing, as it advertises. It comes in Hip Hop Beats Lo-Fi, which did nothing for me, but, I am definitely telling my grandchildren about this version.

III.       YES, MINDFULNESS WITH BREATHING EXERCISES, MEDITATION, AND YOGA

Even Jessica Stillman, the INC article author, says, not another expert telling us that mindfulness, meditation and yoga are important to mental and physical health!

“ But the reason so many people recommend the practice is because a mountain of research shows it works. In the article, Plassmann goes into detail about how meditation affects your brain, but the basic lesson is this: “Exercises such as focusing on breathing can help regulate brain activity at will.” The benefits of adopting all these Covid brain-busting strategies may even outlast the current crisis. “It is worth devoting conscious attention to developing healthy mental habits, with the knowledge that it will only get easier with time,” Plassmann concludes.”

Now, there is impetus to go back to the link for My Yoga Source, and try some of their mediation, breathing, relaxation yoga, and other yoga classes for $39 for unlimited classes for three weeks as a new student.    Some say three weeks can create a new habit and this habit works, for us and for our grandchildren.  See my previous post, “Yoga For Grandchildren Should Start Young With Benefits Forever.”

Our grandchildren repeat that the worse thing about the pandemic quarantine is that they cannot see their friends. The only good thing about this time as Boomers is that the time, however like Groundhog Day, is going by quickly, and we have FaceTime, Zoom, and Texting to keep in touch with children, grandchildren, and friends.  We women who have given birth know you forget the pain when the baby is born. Could this experience be an example of something concrete we know that viewing that experience (and yes, childbirth is stressful) as challenging rather than negative shows, as in the conclusion at page 23 of the Stanford draft study “that the experience of positive emotions can broaden individuals’ thought-action repertoires, building enduring physical, intellectual, social, and psychological resources and producing flexible, creative, and novel thinking.”

Let’s concentrate on the positives that have come out of this time of dealing with the coronavirus and how lucky we are that we have Zoom, that we can now have video doctors’ appointments rather than waiting in doctors’ offices for hours. I cannot wait for there to be vaccines for COVID-19. I heard we many need many, and possibly boosters, and even shots annually or even quarterly.  See, as I am listening to Lo-Fi as I write this, I am trying to use the three tips above and think positively.

I am ready for the end of COVID-19 brain as much as ready for the end of COVID-19.  Do we Boomers then have to worry that this fog brain consequence of the pandemic contributes to early onset dementia or Alzheimers?

 

Joy,

 

Mema

 

 

 

 

 

 

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