Pandemic brain fog: a real thing

Limbic system

brain fogPreparing the agenda for one of the endless ZOOM meetings I have, someone (no, not me) accidentally inserted an intro from some months earlier, then sent it out in a mass email. I wrote back, “I am confounded.” They said, “pandemic brain.”

Is that a thing? I’m not talking about the fog that people who’ve had COVID sometimes experience. I am thinking of the rest of us. Apparently, it is. From UC Health: Struggling with brain fog? You’re not alone.

“Months of an upside-down routine – or in some cases, lack of a routine altogether – have left our brains in the lurch. ‘People may start forgetting things, wondering, ‘What was I going to do today? I don’t even know.’”

Being Patient notes: “Dr. Majid Fotuhi, a Harvard and John Hopkins trained neurologist and neuroscientist, describes brain fog as an all-inclusive term that encompasses the inability to concentrate, increased absent-mindedness, difficulty recalling or retaining information, fatigue, insomnia, and changes in mood. There is no test or measurement to access brain fog, nor is it considered an official medical diagnosis.”

My mind is already full

As early as June 2020, Penn Medicine reported: “Part of the brain called the limbic system is hyperactive during times of negative emotions and stress, explained Lily Brown, PhD… director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety.

“The limbic system acts as a control center for feelings and reactions. For example, the well-known fight or flight response begins in the limbic system, triggering feelings of anxiety and fear.

“Having trouble thinking, planning, and getting things done recently?… In many cases, when emotions become overblown, parts of the brain in charge of executive function tend to not communicate as well with the emotional parts of the brain — the limbic system is overriding the executive functioning circuit. Brown shared that this can cause people to have trouble focusing or controlling impulses.” Yup.

She recommends some “mindfulness” activities, which you may find useful. What’s helpful to me is the fact that I’m not crazy. Or probably not. I talk to myself a LOT. I don’t go out every day, only to the pharmacy, grocery store or to pick up takeout food. So I say, “My wallet is downstairs,” sometimes aloud, so I don’t forget it. “My keys are in the mail drawer, or maybe in the pants I wore yesterday.”


Still, the things I used to do easily are trickier. The last time I went to the grocery, I remembered the bags (doesn’t always happen), the masks (ditto), the wallet, and the keys. And I picked up all of the items on the list.

I remembered to give the cashier the discount card, then I packed up my cart. But I forgot to pick up my credit card. The customer behind me ran to give it to me, which I, in equal measure, appreciated and was mortified.

It’s always stuff like that. I’m PROBABLY not suffering from dementia. Fog brain. I mean brain fog. Yeah, that.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

4 thoughts on “Pandemic brain fog: a real thing”

  1. I know, exactly, what you are talking about. Lately, I find myself forgetting names of people and places that I have known for years and wondering if I could be going senile. The key that I have found that works for me is to purposefully, move my thoughts to something else, completely and out of nowhere, what I had spent over half an hour trying desperately to think of, is there, perfectly clear.

  2. Roger, here I thought pandemic brain fog was only evident in Covid long-haulers. This is a new take on it.

    My friend Christopher just passed one full year after his Covid diagnosis. (“I was always a trailblazer, deah!” was his comment. The Covid-related brain fog persists. He forgets names of dear friends when they meet (doesn’t help that everyone is masked and so partly disguised), plus a lot of day-to-day stuff. (The cat reminds him when she needs to be fed.)

    But yes, a year of this has taken a toll on everyone I know. One advantage for me is that I had been practicing mindfulness for a couple of years before the outbreak. In addition, I tend to be a solitary person in general, so isolating was harder on Lex than me.

    Thanks for an enlightening look at the concept! Amy

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