The effects of pandemic brain fog on mental health: God’s grace is sufficient
May 12, 2022
Many of us who have survived the past couple of years have come away with significant pandemic-related “brain fog.”
Forgetfulness, confusion, agitation, fear, anxiety. You might have encountered a spike in any or all of these and more. The question marks continue to appear as COVID-19 cases come and go in different parts of the world. If you do not seem to be your old, pre-pandemic self, you’re not alone. Regardless of the etiology (cause) of the pandemic or the many dynamics—social and political—that have played out since, the fact is, it happened, and we must continue to deal with it. Part of that, for so many, is trudging through the muck of symptoms that on some days seem to defy the imagination. The result can be days of exhaustion, chronic fatigue, befuddlement, headaches, chronic anxiety, grief, depression, and so on.
I am not speaking particularly to the concerns of “long haul” COVID patients. These folks have a different level of complexity and causation. I’m referring generally to the funk that has embraced pandemic survivors, irrespective of being diagnosed with COVID-19, that keeps us at bay from the clarity that, not so long ago, we seemed to have taken for granted. It is not breaking news, of course. People are aware of the phenomenon. I’m attempting to gently remind us all of its presence after two years of upheaval, and that we need to be kind to ourselves. And I’m purposely distinguishing between COVID-19 itself and the general effects of the pandemic.
Since the pandemic’s outset, the constantly changing advice and information from government officials, doctors, health agencies, and others have created a confusion and bewilderment unlike any other in modern times, including that which we encountered on September 11, 2001. The mixed signals regarding masking, social distancing, and vaccinations have contributed to extreme division and rancor. This division hatches suspicion and more confusion, which in itself promotes more “fog” because our brains are not accustomed to the constant switching such signals produce. It’s akin to standing on a railroad track with an old-fashioned train coming and, when the locomotive driver least expects it, throwing the manual switching device and expecting the driver to adapt to the sudden jolt and change in direction.
A healthy response to pandemic brain fog is reminding ourselves that we cannot reasonably be expected to synthesize the various unclear messages that keep bombarding us. It has been much like a modern-day Tower of Babel. Instead of a confusion of the language itself, it has been more like a confusion of ideas, and social media platforms have played their own part in its promotion and cultivation, as have certain media outlets that pride themselves in their extreme views. Differentiating oneself and working to maintain thoughtfulness in a sea of groupthink is challenging.
Many of us who have survived the past couple of years have come away with significant pandemic-related “brain fog.” Forgetfulness, confusion, agitation, fear, anxiety. You might have encountered a spike in any or all of these and more. The question marks continue to appear as COVID-19 cases come and go in different parts of the world. If you do not seem to be your old, pre-pandemic self, you’re not alone.
Despite some success lately with herd immunity, as of this writing, COVID cases are on the rise once again. Several states are experiencing increased illness and hospitalizations. It is at times like this current cycle that we can begin to take stock and activate our own resources. What follows are a few practical suggestions on how to manage brain fog and get right with yourself and the world again.
Breath prayer. When you find yourself in overwhelm, give this tried-and-true crisis method a go. Find a space that works for you, if possible, and think of what is on your heart and what you need to make it through the next hour. As you ask God for assistance, inhale deeply, and as you briefly and silently state the key words of your greatest need, exhale with that thought, seeing the light and joy of God’s existence move through your body and out as you exhale.
Read Genesis 1. Slowly and deliberately, and not as a chore, reread the first chapter of the Bible. It is an excellent remedy for confusion and brain fog. I would suggest reading it in one translation, and when confusion returns, read it again in another. For example, begin with a formal equivalence translation such as the New Revised Standard Version or English Standard Version, and pay special attention to the order and purposeful structure. Next time, read a dynamic equivalent version such as the Good News Translation (Today’s English Version), the Common English Bible, or the New American Bible (Catholic Bible). Do it as often as necessary or when the mood strikes. It’s amazing what that chapter can do to clear the mind.
Think things through with a time limit. Take five or ten minutes to concentrate on the thinking process. No phone, no computer (and therefore no Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, YouTube, or anything else). Just you and your thoughts. Thinking takes work. Try focusing on the thinking brain as opposed to the feeling brain. This one is a real challenge for some. I would never suggest that you ignore your feelings. In fact, you won’t be able to. Our feelings are automatic, being part of the autonomic nervous system. Your feelings will be there when you actually need them. Home in on what seems to be causing the confusion and brain fog and gently remind yourself that you have the skills to think through and identify what is causing so much chaos. This practice alone will help reduce the number of confusing episodes. Giving yourself a time limit will help you avoid “overthinking it.” Believe in the conclusion you arrive at.
Above all else, be good to yourself if you encounter the haziness that comes with this relatively recent phenomenon. God’s grace is indeed sufficient, and we can count on the fog lifting in time.
Rev. Bryan D. Jackson is an American Baptist minister and a member of the Cherokee Community of Puget Sound and the Mt. Hood Cherokees, both satellite communities of the Cherokee Nation. He lives on Vashon Island, Washington and is the author of Chattahoochee Rain: A Cherokee novella.