The strange way COVID attacked my brain and how I’m beating it

The one good thing about the COVID-19 pandemic for me?

I’m actually having phone calls with friends. No FaceTime, Facebook or Zoom… just plain, old-fashioned voices over a not-so-old-fashioned smartphone, catching up together.

But the conversations have gotten very predictable.

None of us are out doing anything particularly fun to talk about. Instead, there’s this one common topic that seems to dominate our conversations…

My friends, family and I are tired.

We’re tired of the drastic changes to our daily routines and the constant news reports.

We’re tired of worrying about whether it’s safe to start getting out a little — or a lot.

We’re tired of the handwashing, the mask-wearing, the sanitizing — though necessary to keep safe.

And we’re tired of worrying about the financial pressures and uncertainty.

Now, you may be thinking when I say I’m tired of these things, I’m just ready for them to “go away and everything be OK.”

That’s true, but the fact of the matter is… in addition to that kind of tired, I’m bone tired. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Your exhaustion is not in your head

I’m not infected, but COVID-19 has affected my mind and body. Instead of a pathogen, stress is my attacker.

Stress leads to fatigue. But not just any stress, I’m talking about the long-term stress we are dealing with as we go into what feels like week 587 of the pandemic.

“People face challenges that really activate the sympathetic nervous system, so it’s kind of classic ‘fight or flight’ response,” said Craig N. Sawchuk, a psychologist at the Mayo Clinic. “You get the hormone release to help keep us going like adrenaline and cortisol ― those are good. It’s really adaptive that our body can flip that switch. But it’s not meant to be a constant burn, either. And that’s where we run into these physical problems.”

This is where many of us are finding ourselves.

My brain, like so many others, has reached a point where constantly adapting to the uncertainty, the fear and the new challenges has begun to take a physical toll.

“And that’s where you start to see some of the energy problems starting to happen where we’re fatigued,” Sawchuk said. “We may be actually resting a lot more, sometimes unintentionally so, but it’s not a restorative type of rest.”

He’s exactly right. I just want to sleep once I’m done with whatever I need to accomplish. And that’s what I’m hearing from friends as well. But it’s not enough…

Acknowledge your stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness

Many people have experienced stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness and extreme sadness in their lives. Hopefully, though, only temporarily.

But right now, people all over the world are feeling this on a massive scale. According to YouGov’s COVID-19 tracker, Americans are reporting significant and sustained increases in depression and anxiety at rates historically higher than average.

And there’s never any reason to feel ashamed about feeling any of these emotions. In fact, the best thing to do is acknowledge it. I know I have every right to feel the way I do. Changes have come at me at lightning speed, and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I know it’s coming for me and for you, too.

Feel like crying? Cry. Not only will it help you release the feelings you need to share with someone close to you (or not, if you’d prefer to cry alone), but crying really can make things better…

Studies have shown that crying releases the neurotransmitter oxytocin, a “feel good” hormone that generally lowers anxiety. Oxytocin is also a pain reliever.

Feel like you can’t think straight right now? Cry. Nerve Growth Factor is a protein that supports nerve and brain function. Since tear glands contain NGF, one theory is that our tears release the protein, it bypasses the brain-blood barrier via the trigeminal nerve and is sent right back into the brain where it is needed.

Feed your brain and pamper each other

Even though I am feeling out of sorts, I’ve got things to do… because life goes on.

So, in addition to recognizing my feelings in the midst of a predicament I have no control over, I’m working harder at taking care of myself so I can focus and manage my emotions.

Right now, my best friend is a nootropic supplement that contains phosphatidylserine (PS), a nutrient found in high concentrations in the brain — under the best circumstances — that supports awareness, clarity, reasoning, attention span and cognition… all the things that this pandemic has caused me to struggle with — in a nutshell.

Clinical studies have found that taking supplemental PS reduces serum adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and cortisol levels, as well as salivary cortisol levels following mental stress. In other words, PS helps blunt the effects of stress by decreasing blood levels of the stress hormones ACTH, cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.

It’s working for me. My brain doesn’t feel quite as taxed, and I can tell my body is slowly coming around. The exhaustion is beginning to ease.

Between the brain food and the occasional cry, I know I will make it through. But for others it’s not so cut and dry, and one concern about so many of us living separately from each other right now is that it’s hard to recognize when someone may really need help holding it together.

That means that being mindful of others’ feelings is just as important right now as being mindful of our own. So, instead of sending a text to check on your friend, pick up the phone. Hearing your voice may make all the difference.

Sources:

COVID-19 and your mental health — Mayo Clinic

Why you always feel tired, even if you’re moving less than ever — HuffPost

4 real health benefits of crying — Easy Health Options®

Effects of Soy Lecithin Phosphatidic Acid and Phosphatidylserine Complex (PAS) on the Endocrine and Psychological Responses to Mental Stress—PubMed

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Margaret Cantwell

By Margaret Cantwell

Margaret Cantwell began her paleo diet in 2010 in an effort to lose weight. Since then, the diet has been instrumental in helping her overcome a number of other health problems. Thanks to the benefits she has enjoyed from her paleo diet and lifestyle, she dedicates her time as managing editor of Easy Health Digest™, researching and writing about a broad range of health and wellness topics, including diet, exercise, nutrition and supplementation, so that readers can also be empowered to experience their best health possible.