As I quarantine in this unfathomable pandemic, I have come to rely more on Amazon Alexa.  She wakes me up; she tells me the temperature outside; she plays me podcasts like my favorite Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and she plays music for me so I don’t have to listen to the news 24/7.  Alexa has become a true friend except the other day, when I asked her for the latest weather report.  Alexa regaled me with the nice weather forecast and then ended with “have a wonderful day, Laurie.”  Without missing a beat, I screamed, “we’re in a global pandemic Alexa, can’t you be more sensitive?”  Realizing I was talking to a robot, I apologized to her for my outburst.  She responded with “I don’t have that information?” I quickly computed that my brain was getting fuzzy in quarantine. 

Each time I leave my condo, I have to remember my gloves, my mask, my keys, my phone, my sun visor, and my brain!  It is enough to stress out the hardiest of souls!  With all the protective gear I have to remember, it is a wonder I venture out at all, even just to walk and breathe outside.  Half the time I forget something and have to go back.  This doesn’t bode well when the thing you forget is your housekeys!  ? These brain farts are a natural part of the lack of sleep we are getting. Combined with the hassling baggage of social distancing, it is no wonder we are emotional wrecks.

Research has shown that loneliness has an impact on brain function.  Human beings are socially wired to be connected.  When that connection severs suddenly with self-isolation, it often brings up depression, anxiety, and frustration. We spend our days ruminating on worry and fear.  The definition of rumination is two-fold.  The literal definition is “the act or process of regurgitating and chewing again previously swallowed food.”  The second part is “obsessive thinking about an idea, situation, or choice especially when it interferes with normal mental functioning plus focusing of one’s attention on negative or distressing thoughts or feelings.”  Being shut-ins causes us to ruminate on the news and obsessively chew and spit up all the ugliness and fear, and cause even more worry and stress.  It is no wonder that alcohol consumption has multiplied since we started quarantine in March.  It is also not a surprise that teletherapy is on the rise.

If you are an extrovert like me, who craves human interaction and seriously needs to be social, it is a harder to be in quarantine.  If you are an introvert who loves curling up with a good book or bingeing TV, it is an easier task to be in isolation.  We know that chronic stress can cause fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration, and changes in appetite.  Some of us are hungry all the time and some of us have a lump in our throats that prevent eating. 

My brain in lockdown is fuzzy and unfocused.  The daily rhythm of my life has vanished.  Half the time I don’t know what day it is.  I call most days “blursday,” or “maybe this day”, or “that day”, or “other day”!  I had always enjoyed listening to audible books, but I find that my brain wanders and can’t concentrate.  The only time I can think clearly is when I write.  I have discovered that journaling and writing helps to lift the fog and sort through the grief over my loss of freedom and loneliness.  I know that this is the new normal, but I prefer to call it acceptably different.  I can’t find normal in this pandemic, but I can wrap my head around acceptably different.

Here are some positive ways to lift the brain fog:

  • Stick to a routine.  Set a new rhythm to your life.  Walk in the morning, have Zoom meetings in the afternoon, lift weights, do yoga, read a book, and then watch TV – but not the news!
  • Stay informed with newspapers and on-line sources but do not media overload.  We are so inundated with COVID news that it is making us physically sick.  Some of us have even developed symptoms from the media blitz, like insomnia and heart palpitations. 
  • Take long walks. Exercise is the antidote to fuzzy brain.  And when you meet someone on the way while wearing your required mask, figure out a way to smile with your eyes.  I haven’t perfected this yet but I am working on it. 
  • Sleep as long as you can.  Your brain needs to refuel.
  • Try knitting.  It is calming and just think of the scarves you can knit for holiday gifts! My local knitting store, Jennifer Knits, does on line orders!
  • Travel virtually until we are out of quarantine:
  • Gratitude can help.  I am so grateful for the first responders on the front lines in this fight against COVID-19.  I am also grateful for OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center which offers the second tier of responders to help those coping with death and loss.
  • Laughing has lots of benefits.  Sometimes this requires some wine, but have Face Time cocktails with friends.
  • Don’t beat yourself up for being sad.  Building resilience in this pandemic is hard.
  • Find new projects, skills, or catch up on books that have been sitting on your nightstand for years.
  • Be willing to change, learn, adapt, and grow.  Be flexible.  Since you can’t see your loved ones, use Zoom or Face Time to chat with them and feel less alone.
  • Keep hope alive!  Hope is the carrot that dangles in front of us, making the journey seem palatable.

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Event co-chair Laurie Burrows Grad arrives at the 23rd annual “A Night at Sardi’s” to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for Alzheimer’s Association/AP Images)