📰 Pandemic Fog Is Real
Full Title: Pandemic Fog Is Real
The pandemic is still too young to have yielded rigorous, peer-reviewed studies about its effects on cognitive function. But the brain scientists I spoke with told me they can extrapolate based on earlier work about trauma, boredom, stress, and inactivity, all of which do a host of very bad things to a mammal’s brain.
“Based on everything we know about the brain, two of the things that are really good for it are physical activity and novelty. A thing that’s very bad for it is chronic and perpetual stress.” Living through a pandemic—even for those who are doing so in relative comfort—“is exposing people to microdoses of unpredictable stress all the time,” said Franklin, whose research has shown that stress changes the brain regions that control executive function, learning, and memory.
Prolonged boredom is, somewhat paradoxically, hugely stressful, Franklin said. Our brains hate it. “What’s very clear in the literature is that environmental enrichment—being outside of your home, bumping into people, commuting, all of these changes that we are collectively being deprived of—is very associated with synaptic plasticity,” the brain’s inherent ability to generate new connections and learn new things, she said.
The share of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, or both roughly quadrupled from June 2019 to December 2020, according to a Census Bureau study released late last year.
Longitudinal studies of survivors of Chernobyl, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina show elevated rates of mental-health problems, in some cases lasting for more than a decade.
I have a finite suite of moods, a limited number of possible activities, a set of strings being pulled from far offscreen. Everything is two-dimensional, fake, uncanny. My world is as big as my apartment, which is not very big at all.