Behold, “pandemic fog” — or maybe you already have it

If you’re finding yourself wondering what day it is — today’s Tuesday, FYI — or you forgot what your local watering hole smells like, you’re likely suffering from what some have labeled “pandemic fog.” 

The Atlantic writer Ellen Cushing looked into exactly why she was feeling so off, and according to experts she spoke with, the answer is COVID-19. Not the disease itself, but the everything that surrounds it: isolation, anxiety, boredom, the whole coronavirus potpourri.

“We’re all walking around with some mild cognitive impairment,” says UC Irvine-based neuroscientist Mike Yassa. “Based on everything we know about the brain, two of the things that are really good for it are physical activity and novelty. A thing that’s very bad for it is chronic and perpetual stress.”

The pandemic is, “is exposing people to microdoses of unpredictable stress all the time,” Yassa says, which takes its toll on the regions of the brain dealing with learning and memory.

“Our brains are very good at learning different things and forgetting the things that are not a priority,” says Tina Franklin, a neuroscientist at Georgia Tech,” meaning we’re shelving things that aren’t important day-to-day nowadays but which used to be — like a colleague’s name, or a friend’s anniversary. In their place, we can likely spot six feet of distance from the next customer at CVS, remember not to leave the house without a mask, and to sing “Happy Birthday” twice when we’re washing our hands. 

When “normal life” does resume, our brains will likely return to our normal way of remembering things.  But, the experts say, it’s still too early yet to know what long-term effects of the pandemic year-plus will have on us.