I thought I was getting through this COVID crisis OK—until a couple of weeks ago. That’s when chores started taking longer to do, broken by spells of staring at walls.
Articles took longer to write as I doodled instead of typed. I stopped posting on social media because I couldn’t focus my thoughts, and I spent mornings squinting at calendars planning projects only to scrap them the next day. I thought I had been navigating lockdown well, but started feeling like an old laptop streaming video on weak Wi-Fi—the hourglass symbol just kept spinning.
Can you relate?
Psychologists say this foggy thinking and difficulty concentrating is due to our brains over-processing during lockdown. Just think about all we’ve had to face these past months:
We’ve had to find new ways of doing everyday tasks. Something as simple as grocery shopping became entangled with queues, contagion concerns and limited delivery slots, making it complex and more tiring
Many of us became home schoolers and remote workers, requiring new tools and skills to be learned rapidly
According to cognitive load theory this combination of rapidly changing circumstances, uncertainty, unfinished goals, stress and worry impede our working memory – which is why we find ourselves so foggy minded
And we haven’t even mentioned worry over job security and loved ones, or Brexit, antagonistic US elections, Black Lives Matter protests, the Beirut explosion, or the personal challenges we had before Coronavirus. No wonder we’re staring at walls and blinking at calendars. Like the old Ford Cortina I had that would mysteriously stop on long drives, our minds go on strike when overworked.
Combatting Lockdown Lethargy
I’ve been looking for ways out of this lockdown fog. Here’s what I’ve tried that might help you too:
Exercise. Moving your body improves cognitive function. Aim for at least 20-30 minutes of walking or other exercise a day
Get quality sleep. There are many facets to sleep hygiene but the basic principles include moderating caffeine and alcohol intake, consistent sleep and wake times, and having an evening wind-down routine
Tidy your workspace. De-cluttering your office, desk and room gives your mind fewer things to worry about
Tidy your screen space. Turning off all pings, dings and notifications minimises distraction and the energy required to refocus. I’ve removed the clock from my toolbar to reduce a sense of rush, I try and work on a zero-inbox as much as I can, and try not having too many tabs open in Chrome multiple days running (becoming unfinished tasks themselves)
Adopt monotasking. Focus on one project at a time, broken into manageable tasks, to reduce cognitive overload
Reflect on nature. Research has found just 20 seconds of meditation on nature a day helps improve well-being
Try breath prayer. A breath prayer is simply a short prayer said in a single breath. I’ve written one based on some words of the apostle Paul, each line prayed slowly breathing in and out. This practice has been key for me in fighting the fog:
God, I receive your love… and release my insecurity.
Mechanics never worked out why my old car suddenly stopped on those long drives. We’d just pull off the road, let it catch its breath for a bit, then drive on when it was ready. Maybe that’s the remedy for lockdown lethargy too. Pulling aside, taking time to breathe, accepting you may not cover so much ground today – and that’s OK.