OPINION

Lockdown brain: Chronic stress is bad for our mental health

Losing track of time? You probably have lockdown brain

On Monday morning, I could have sworn it was Sunday.

I went about my morning as if it was Sunday. I cooked yesterday's breakfast for everyone (the only day of the week I have a plan for breakfast), I had a lie in, I got up and did some work, I pottered.

Only it wasn't Sunday. It was Monday.

My official diagnosis? Lockdown brain.

I'm sure many of you reading this can relate to my rather embarrassing story. I'm sure many of you have had a similar thing happen to you (please tell me I'm not the only one).

Even when you work from home like I do at the moment, it's easy enough to get the days mixed up as they all just sort of meld into each other like a slow moving lava lamp.

My sleep patterns are all over the place and this might be something that's contributing to this. I'm regularly still awake at 4am and this of course makes me tired and sluggish in the mornings.

Every time I'm left to my own devices regarding sleep, without the requirement of morning meetings or getting the kids to school, my body seems to just automatically revert to some sort of natural nocturnal state.

But this lockdown is prolonging this issue as it seems to just go on forever.

We had four days of school between the lockdowns, here on the NSW/Victorian border, and it was a massive struggle to get ourselves back into the right pattern before the kids went back.

I think we all heaved a sigh of relief when the new lockdown was announced on Thursday and we knew that we didn't have to pretend to be chipper early on Friday morning.

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But that was before the reality of yet another lockdown really sunk in. And for the school holidays, no less.

Suddenly realising that I was a day out today made we wonder if these lockdowns are affecting our brains and our sleep patterns.

So I did some digging to find out if it really was just me being a failed adult.

In my online travels to self-soothe my new-found lack of personal security about my capacity to adult, I came across an ABC article by Suzannah Lyons and Lynne Malcolm (All in the Mind).

They looked at a Swinburn University neuropsychologist Professor Susan Rossell's research into the mental health of Australians during the crisis and shared some important truths that made me feel a little better.

Stress, anxiety, depression, trauma - the recipe for pandemic lockdown adulthood it seems - all impact our cognitive function.

Professor Rossell tells us that our daily routine tasks that are hardwired in are going to be fine generally speaking, but those that require planning and thinking outside the box require us to use our frontal lobes and thus we are going to find this more challenging.

She says that decision making and understanding other people's perspectives are also difficult to do, and... wait for it... our memory centre is also affected which can impact how we understand where we are in space and time. Phew.

Chronic stress is not a good thing. Obviously.

Stress, anxiety, depression, trauma - the recipe for pandemic lockdown adulthood it seems - all impact our cognitive function.

But did you know that if you are under chronic stress, stress hormones can cause brain cells to die and prevent new brain cells from being made, which means "we are less cognitively flexible...[and] less able to adapt to new situations, according to University of Tasmania's neuroscientist, Dr Lila Landowski.

Ms Lyons and Ms Malcolm also tells us that you could be sleeping more, but the quality of sleep could be worse, with vivid and emotional dreams.

I can definitely attest to that.

My dreams have been completely whacky, and incredibly weird, and sometimes it felt like I was waking up a different person, until I could shake off the sandman dust and settle back into my own brain.

So it seems that lockdown brain is a thing.

It's not strange that I totally lost track of what day it was, especially without the usual signposts telling me what part of the week I was in, and that chronic stress does nothing for one's sanity.

Meditation, journaling, running, gaming, whatever your go-to is for stress relief seems to be key to surviving the mental battle that is lockdown.

I'm sure there's an app for that - for me, probably the Calendar is a good place to start.

This story Losing track of time? You probably have lockdown brain first appeared on The Canberra Times.