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Column 24th March 2021

What the Pandemic is doing to our brains

It’s now over a year since the first lockdown started and I’m tired.

I’m tired of not seeing people in the street, of not having those little informal chats in the supermarket, of stilted conversations on Zoom, of not being able just to say “it’s Saturday why don’t we just go out for the day”.

It’s not that I have nothing to do, it’s just that it’s more of the same.

Those breaks from routine which we used to have (holidays, days out, an exercise class, coffee with friends, a chat outside a meeting) just aren’t possible.

I was reading an article in The Atlantic on the internet entitled “What the pandemic is doing to our brains” which suggests that one of the impacts of Covid is an increase in forgetfulness and a loss in our ability to stretch our brains.

In the article a comment from Tina Franklin, a neuroscientist at Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that living through a pandemic—even for those who are doing so in relative comfort—“is exposing people to micro doses of unpredictable stress all the time”.

Apparently her research has shown that stress changes the brain regions that control executive function, learning, and memory.

This may make it harder for us to cope with daily life.

After a year of different behaviours we’ve been doing this so long, we’re forgetting how to be normal.

I think that we fall into four groups:

- Those whose life has continued as “normal” with the addition0 of face masks, hand washing and social distancing.

- Those who are coping with major changes caused by the impact of the pandemic, such as bereavement, job loss, or family breakup.

 - Those front line workers who are handling the impact of Covid on the rest of us (to whom we all owe a great deal) and,

 - finally the rest of us.

For some, the impact of the pandemic is very visible and very stressful but for others it’s just a constant nagging irritant.

Another section of the article quotes Mike Yassa, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Irvine, who explains that “we’re all walking around with some mild cognitive impairment,” and “based on everything we know about the brain, two of the things that are really good for it are physical activity and novelty.”

Hopefully we’ll get more novelty back soon and be able to stretch our brains as well as our bodies.


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