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Brain Fog, Explained: Here are the Signs and How You Can Cope

I forgot what I was about to say.
by Arianne Merez
Sep 13, 2021
Photo/s: Shutterstock

Bryan (not his real name) bought five different clip-on neckties for his Zoom meeting not because he wanted to look good on screen, but because he forgot how to tie one. Cooped up alone in a rented room for nearly two years, he feels his brain had fogged up.

The 25-year-old accountant is just one of countless people around the world who have struggled to focus when people around them are getting sick with or dying of COVID-19 and with the end of the pandemic nowhere in sight as hyper-contagious variants like Delta spark new lockdowns.

"I used to wear a necktie every day before the pandemic but now I just don't know how to tie one anymore," Bryan told reportr.

"I don't even remember the last time I wore pants," he added.

Freelancer Allie (also not her real name) used to hustle her way through bills by working on simultaneous projects at a time while managing her online store. But last week, Allie said she cried when she realized she had to work on two projects when she used to handle as many as five at a time.

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"I'm doing less work but I feel more tired than ever," the 27-year-old said. "Sometimes I forget even my laptop password even if I use it every day."

Forgetfulness, feeling tired all the time, having a hard time thinking clearly, and just a feeling of having your thoughts clouded are messing with our brains and have become fairly common among many people during this pandemic. It's what has been dubbed as "pandemic brain" or brain fog.

"There's this overwhelming feeling that nothing is going on but at the same time so many things are happening outside of us and we find it difficult to make sense of everything," life coach and psychologist Dr. Ali Gui told reportr.

While it's not a disorder, Dr. Gui said the so-called "pandemic brain" is usually triggered by chronic stress and anxiety.

"It's like a fogging of one's thoughts because you are faced with something unfamiliar and have been pulled out of your normal environment. For many, the uncertainty of the pandemic is a trigger of stress and anxiety," she said.

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The experience varies from person to person too, Dr. Gui said, noting that one should consider seeing a professional if it already hinders a person from functioning normally.

"If you can no longer work or get up in the morning then that's the time that you might want to consider seeing a psychologist because it might be developing into depression," she said.

A 2020 online survey by the Department of Health showed that some 25% said they were feeling moderate to severe anxiety, while about 17% reported feeling moderate to severe depression and other psychological conditions due to the pandemic.

"Sabi nga diba, it's okay not to be okay. What is not okay is allowing yourself to stay that way," Dr. Gui said.


Here are some tips on how to cope with pandemic brain:

1. Build a routine.

Keeping a daily routine gives cues on actions that you need to take on a daily basis and can help with the forgetfulness aspect of the pandemic brain, said Dr. Gui. 

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"It gives you a sense of purpose on what you need to accomplish," she said. 

When one has a routine, it can train the brain on what a "normal" day looks like.

2. Take a break.

Cut back on your screen time, take a walk, water your plants--whatever it is that can help you relax can be taken as a form of break said Dr. Gui.

"Always remember that times are abnormal so don't force yourself too much to be like your pre-pandemic self," she said.

3. Stay in touch with family and friends.

Just because you're social distancing doesn't mean you can no longer stay in touch with your family and friends. Keeping a healthy communication line with loved ones can lessen the stress and anxiety of the pandemic.

"Whenever we're going through something, it feels better when we have someone to confide in or share it with. So kagaya nitong pandemic, we're all going through it, why not go through it together?" she said.

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4. Exercise and eat healthy.

Exercising is not just good for your body, it's also good for your brain. If you're afraid to go out, just doing some indoor workouts can help improve mental agility. Eating healthy is also a must so consider cutting back on sweets and junk food.

"Staying healthy is more important than ever ngayong may pandemic because all of us are working on not getting sick," Dr. Gui said.

5. Be patient with yourself.

If you forget to do a chore, get emotional over a small matter or something simple, don't punish yourself for it said Dr. Gui. With the pandemic messing with everyone's brains, the least that you could do is to be more compassionate towards yourself.

"Don't be too hard on yourself. Everyone has that feeling of uncertainty, sadness, and anxiety over the pandemic, the least that anyone needs right now is more reasons to feel bad," she said.

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*Names have been changed upon the request of the interviewees

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