🛑 TRIGGER WARNING: This post will heavily discuss themes of the negative effects of both mental health and the pandemic which may be sensitive topics to certain readers. Please read at your own discretion.🛑
Other than the overwhelming number of infections and deaths brought by COVID-19, the pandemic also brought a significant social and economic disruption with it, which evidently prompted a degeneration in our mental well-being and ability to cope with the onslaught of being quarantined. According to a study entitled, “Psychological Impact of [the] COVID-19 Pandemic in the Philippines'', 16.3% of the respondents of the 1,879 completed surveys stated that they have claimed that the “physiological impact of the outbreak” was moderate-to-severe. Which begs the question, why is that so?
A notable phenomenon brought by the pandemic is something called “pandemic brain”, which is essentially “[a] cognitive impairment that the whole world has been going through because it’s triggered by things like stress” as defined by behavioral scientist, Jeni Stolow (2021). The pandemic has disrupted the usual schedule of our lives and in its wake left an overbearing sense of anxiety and uncertainty. According to Stolow, the phenomenon is just our brains trying to cope and adapt to the current world situation - but with such a sudden shift, the “adaptation” process can cause a feeling of tiredness and depression.
That’s not all! In a post by Kelli Whitlock Burton and Ludovica Brusaferri, PhD. (2022), contrary to what you may think, having a “pandemic brain” is not limited to those who are infected with COVID-19, as those who are not infected can experience these “symptoms” as well. Alongside the common feelings of anxiety and depression, the other stressors brought by the pandemic may have triggered brain inflammation which can also affect mental health. (HAMPTON, 2022).
"The most important finding is the evidence of neuroinflammation in non-infected, otherwise healthy participants, which may explain the variety of sickness-behavior-like symptoms experienced by many during the pandemic," states Ludovica Brusaferri, PhD. After brain imaging done by Harvard Medical School, they have identified that there are two main markers of neuroinflammation, the two being translocator protein and myoinositol. According to the study, those who were found to have a higher sublevel of translocator protein were also the ones who reported to be experiencing a higher burden of symptoms in relation to mood and physical fatigue.
It is important to note that numerous studies and surveys show that young people are more susceptible to psychological distress in comparison to those who are 40 and older. In an article released by UNICEF (2021), according to available estimates, 1 in 7 children aged 10-19 is estimated to be living with a diagnosed mental disorder, and as the pandemic has taken its toll, 1 in 5 of those, aged 15-24, have stated that they have been experiencing symptoms of depression or have little to no interest in doing anything. If this is something that resonates with you, you are definitely not alone.
Across all the articles released about the phenomenon, the common belief is that the main cause of “pandemic brain” is because of the limited and/or reduced social interaction (Adepoju, 2021), alongside the added stress of external factors that are also brought by pandemic can lead to the feelings of apathy and anxiety. Which is why it is recommended that if you feel you are experiencing the “pandemic brain”, it’s best that you incorporate aspects and activities in your life that are meaningful to you into your schedule in order to break the monotony of work and leisure time. It is recommended that one starts off with something simple so as to not overwhelm oneself. (What Is Pandemic Brain Fog? – Sharp Health News, 2021)
As the fight against COVID-19 is near but not yet over and as we slowly but surely transition to a life post-pandemic, this transition can feel overwhelming and suffocating especially after being restricted for so long. Take everything one step at a time, because the road to progress is never a straight line, it is a long yet extremely rewarding process.
Adepoju, P. (2021, February 3). COVID's mental-health toll: how scientists are tracking a surge in depression. nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00175-z
Brandenberg, R. S. (2021, July 20). 'Pandemic brain' is making it harder for us to focus. Temple Now |. https://news.temple.edu/news/2021-07-20/pandemic-brain-making-it-harder-us-focus
Burton, K. W. (2022, March 22). 'Pandemic Brain' Not Limited to Patients Infected with COVID-19. MedScape. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/970745?reg=1
HAMPTON, T. (2022, February 23). Pandemic Stress and the Brain | Harvard Medical School. Harvard Medical School. https://hms.harvard.edu/news/pandemic-stress-brain
Tee, M. L., Tee, C. A., Anlacan, J. P., Aligam, K. J. G., Reyes, P. W. C., Kuruchittham, V., & Ho, R. C. (2020, August 24). Psychological impact of COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7444468/
What Is Pandemic Brain Fog? – Sharp Health News. (2021, May 17). Sharp HealthCare. https://www.sharp.com/health-news/how-to-lift-pandemic-brain-fog.cfm
Wylie, H. (2021, October 7). Impact of COVID-19 on poor mental health in children and young people 'tip of the iceberg' – UNICEF. UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/philippines/press-releases/impact-covid-19-poor-mental-health-children-and-young-people-tip-iceberg-unicef