Have you been feeling a bit ‘foggy’?

Melbourne is just coming out of one of the strictest lockdowns around the world to combat the spread of Covid-19. And although it is lovely to have a bit of freedom again, I am aware that England and other countries are now considering doing the same.

Melbourne’s lockdown, although strict and controversial, is being considered a success by many countries due to reducing virus transmission to the extent that no new cases have recently been recorded, after having over 700 new cases daily in July/August. So it’s no wonder that other cities and countries are thinking about doing the same.

During the Melbourne lockdown it became apparent that not everyone was functioning the same way we would when everything is normal. We didn’t quite become zombies, but, in general, people were more forgetful, decisions seemed harder to make, and people were more irritable.

For those going into lockdown it might be helpful to understand what is going on with our brains. And Melbournians are probably still feeling the effects as it takes time to get back to normal.

What was going on with our brains?

It’s no surprise that being in lockdown increases stress and anxiety and it is made worse by the longevity of the situation. But what you might not know is that feeling like this for a prolonged time effects our cognitive ability and makes it more difficult to access our prefrontal cortex.

We use our prefrontal cortex to make decisions and also to help understand other people’s perspectives. So although you can still function doing routine activities, you may find it harder to process complex situations and even find yourself quarrelling more with family or are less patient with work colleagues.

In additional to this, our memory centre, or hippocampus, is also affected, so you may have trouble remembering things, or even your perception of space and time can be altered (is your flux-capacitor working properly?)

All this stress is also triggering a torrent of cortisol in our blood and effecting our brain cells causing them to die. So although you might find you have more time on your hands in lockdown, and want to use it by trying something new or being creative, you might find it difficult to start a new project. This is because your cognitive flexibility is affected by the influx of cortisol which makes it harder to adapt to new situations.

Are you sleeping well?

While we sleep we get rid of excess adrenaline and cortisol that we have accumulated during the day, which means our brains are more active at night and we are not sleeping as well.

Poor sleep can cause us to be 30 percent more anxious, providing a snowball effect on our cortisol levels. And unfortunately makes us even more reactive! At this time our amygdala connects to the locus coeruleus which is the panic response section of our brain causing us to be snappier.

Bumping into the doorjamb or hitting your shin on the coffee table? That might because fatigue effects our coordination and balance centre of our brain, which is basically like being drunk.

What to do about it:

As much as you might want to increase your dopamine levels by eating chocolate or drinking alcohol, that’s not the recommended way to feel happier because they only provide short-term joy with a crash after the effects wear off.

Instead, it is recommended to get some sunshine and vitamin D, as well as plenty of exercise. Stay connected to family and friends in the ways you can, with online meetups and phone calls. Do some self-care activities, like reading a book (my favourite), sitting in nature, meditation, viewing art, fly a kite or gaze at the stars. Find something that helps you feel at peace and calms your mind.

And most importantly, be gentle on yourself. Try not to be hard on yourself if you have forgotten something, or kick yourself for not being as motivated as you think you ‘should’ be. Remember that your brain is being effected by the circumstances and you may not be working at the speeds you usually do, and that’s ok. Allow yourself some grace and even celebrate any small achievements you do have. And remember – You are fabulous!