When was the last time you were able to focus on a lecture or book for more than 10 minutes without feeling confused? Or made it to the end of the day without feeling the need to go back to sleep? The reality is, a lot of us are exhausted and it doesn't necessarily have to be because we're doing a lot. I know I'm not, and yet I'm in bed before 10 pm most nights and fighting the urge to take a nap intermittently throughout the day.
The changes brought on by the pandemic have meant that we don't have to be doing anything to feel tired anymore, the sheer boredom and complacency of doing nothing this past year has left many of us feeling mentally, physically and emotionally drained by the simplest of activities; unable to focus on a conversation for more than 5 minutes or retain information straight after it's been reported. Many neuroscientists are calling this shared experience brain fog, which is essentially poor cognitive functioning; affecting our memory, attention and problem solving ability.
Going back to 2020...as the days, weeks and months began to blur and blend into one another, many of us lost our sense of time, routines and connection with the rest of the world. We no longer had the usual activities and spontaneous events that kept our brains engaged and stimulated, which led to a decline in our cognitive ability. In the same way that a muscle becomes weak if it goes unused for months at a time, our brain atrophies when our neurons are no longer firing.
So as the pace of everyday living is picking back up, we're having to engage and retrain those dormant parts of our brain to function at the same level as before but it's taking a lot more effort, which can feel frustrating and confusing.
When experiencing this brain fog, it's easy to see it as a lack of motivation or sheer laziness, but it's more useful to view it as a signal you should listen to and learn from instead. Feeling this confused, hazy tiredness is a signal that you're pushing yourself too hard and too fast at the moment and that it's time for a break. It's okay if it takes your brain a while to build its strength back to its pre-pandemic level, but pushing yourself to the point of emotional exhaustion and burnout definitely isn't.
Whilst it's important to take it slowly and not push yourself too hard, here are some things that can help you manage that mental exhaustion:
As long as we continue to gently invite new and varied experiences into our lives, drawing upon our cognitive abilities, this brain fog will fade and we'll recover.