Feeling forgetful? This is how the pandemic has impacted our memory

Do you think your memory has deteriorated? (Picture: Getty)

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on us, psychologically, in a number of ways.

Our attention spans are now shorter, our social batteries need recharging more regularly and ‘languishing’ is a new term that perfectly sums up our uninspired mood.

But have you found you’ve become more forgetful as well?

You’re not alone.

A new study has looked into how lockdown and restrictions have taken a toll on our memory.

Researchers in Brazil found that one third of adults reported worse memory since the beginning of social distancing restrictions.

Dr Saf Buxy, a social behavioural and addiction psychotherapist, explains why this is the case in a little more detail.

She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Isolation affects our mental health and cognition, in particular, our memory.

‘When we think of isolation and solitary confinement, we relate it to punishing people like prisoners who pose a high threat to others, where they are usually kept in isolated cells and have little or no interaction with the outside.

‘Similarly – although not imprisoned – we have recently experienced something along the lines of confinement during these times of lockdown.

‘Social isolation naturally carries negative side effects that are harmful to our collective mental health and brain function.’

So what exactly has caused our memory to become so dire over the past 18 months?

A lack of movement 

Stephanie Regan, a clinical psychotherapist, trauma and relationship specialist, says that movement, mood and memory are all linked.

‘Because being physically active has a direct impact on memory, decreased activity throughout the pandemic has played a part in the way different memories have changed,’ she says.

Stephanie stresses that exercise and movement increase blood flow to our body and brain, which is why extra movement and exercise can help keep us mentally sharp.

She adds: ‘We know that memories that are emotionally charged tend to be remembered better and so, outside of the pandemic, much of what was occurring was emotionally charged and people could remember these things. But as the pandemic continued, memories blurred and days did, too.’

Exposure to less information

Is your brain a little foggy? (Picture: Getty)

Our brains have been overloaded with Covid news updates since the pandemic began.

However, there was one thing they were lacking for months on end – new, everyday experiences.

Instead, the repetitive nature of lockdown meant our brains were deprived of stimulation.

Max Wiggins, an insights and innovation lead at human insights agency VERJ, says: ‘Throughout the pandemic, people have been exposed to far less information. For example, instead of walking to the office where we regularly see different people, hear different noises and smell different things – we have followed rigid, monotonous routines.

‘Our memory worsens when we are not exposed to novel information as we have less “cues” available to help trigger the retrieval of new memories. 

‘This explains why remembering who was on a Zoom call from the week before is far more difficult than remembering someone from a face-to-face meeting – the in-person meeting has a number of cues that the Zoom one misses out on.’

Stress

Stress can do incredibly harmful things to our bodies – both physically and mentally.

And there’s been plenty of it over the past 18 months.

Max adds: ‘We’ve all been exposed to new heights of stress due to the uncertainty and panic of the pandemic. While some stressful events can be recalled with accuracy, stress can sometimes negatively affect memory. 

‘It can become harder to pay attention and therefore “encode” information when we are stressed, which makes it more difficult to recall.’

Mood can affect processing

We all know too well that isolating for long periods can have a huge impact on our mood and even lead to more serious problems, such as depression. 

This also makes it harder for our brain to process information and can cause problems with decision making and memory.

Dr Saf Buxy adds: ‘Our thinking capabilities slow down significantly as we are no longer stimulating our brain cells like we once did, but that is quite normal to experience with isolation.’

What can be done to improve memory?

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Our brains are incredibly resilient so we can work to improve our memory.

Max says: ‘Brains are “plastic” and malleable which means the pandemic effects on memory are not irreversible.’

Essentially, trying to avoid all of the above will help rejuvenate our pandemic brains. 

Maintaining a healthy exercise and wellbeing routine is the first thing to prioritise. 

Dr Saf says: ‘Meditating, exercising and getting a good night’s rest are some of the actions that have been linked to a healthier brain exercise. 

‘Exercise helps release some of those feel-good chemicals that help strengthen our cognitive function. Besides exercising, meditation and/or yoga trains the brain to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally stable state.’

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Max adds that mixing up day-to-day routines and experiences up will also help.

He says: ‘Exposure to new stimulation is a key factor that can help clear the pandemic-induced memory fog. Injecting a bit of novelty to help can be as simple as walking new routes, talking to different people and completing new puzzles.’

And finally, ensuring we stay socially connected.

Dr Saf adds: ‘We are social creatures. When we are deprived of social connections, we feel lonely and experience memory loss.

‘That’s why perpetually lonely people are at higher risk for mental, physical and emotional problems and have weakened immune systems. Stay connected and stimulate the brain.’

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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