Covid-19 and Your Brain Health: What You Need to Know
In May 2023, the World Health Organization declared Covid 19 to be no longer a public health emergency as disease control is not a pressing issue anymore. Although medical professionals still refer to it as a pandemic, the virus is not a threat.
You may have gone back to your regular life months ago, but it does not mean you are doing well from a psychological standpoint. Our brains have had to cope with uncertainty during the two years of lockdowns- face masks, hand sanitizers, the risk of serious illness, and social distancing. Although life is always uncertain, no matter how hard we try to control it, Covid made us face this uncertainty without avoiding it, leaving many of us to lose footing and deal with severe mental health factors.
If you are experiencing the lingering psychological effects of Covid, it is essential to address them. This virus did one thing right: it made us face our fears. Now that it is no longer a threat, you must still make an effort to face the issues in your life to improve your brain health and all of its psychological elements.
The World Health Organization's View On The Effects Of Covid On The Body
Covid has significantly impacted our physical, emotional, and mental health. It has also affected the economy and how we interact. We could not travel as effortlessly as we were used to or enjoy social well-being. Businesses had to close, and many of us had to start working from home.As the reports provided by the World Health Organization show, this virus created havoc, so it should not be surprising that it also created internal havoc in many people by deteriorating their physical, mental, or emotional aspects.
Many people suffer or are experiencing lingering physical health issues due to symptoms of the virus. For many, their respiratory system is not the same post-Covid. Shortness of breath is the most common physical consequence people experience months after becoming infected. Some have prolonged respiratory distress or damaged lung tissue, leading to long-term complications like reduced lung function, breathing difficulties, and pulmonary fibrosis.
Some individuals saw their chronic conditions, such as their cardiovascular system, deteriorate due to the virus. They saw their life suddenly shift with higher risks of cardiovascular complications, blood clots, heart attacks, and myocarditis, which is heart muscle inflammation. This happens because the virus can invade heart cells, causing cardiac injury. Those most vulnerable such as people with diabetes, cancer, and respiratory issues, were at a higher risk of experiencing these traumatic health issues.
Covid can also infect kidney cells, making people with renal failure, such as kidney disease, extremely vulnerable. There were cases where the virus caused long-term kidney damage. Our gastronomical system was vulnerable too during the pandemic as the virus can infect the cells residing in the gastrointestinal tract leading to many experiencing abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. One study shows that people with Covid are at a higher risk of developing gastrointestinal issues within a year of infection. These consequences include irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and acid reflex.
This virus has impacted many people's physical health, but it has also affected people's brains in an unprecedented way. Many have had to cope with neurological disorders resulting from Covid, including headaches, dizziness, and loss of taste and smell. In extreme cases, people have experienced more severe neurological disorders like stroke, Guillain-Barré syndrome, seizures, and encephalitis.
Many people infected by the virus, even those with mild symptoms, experienced post-acute Covid syndrome or, as many refer to it, "brain fog." In this case, individuals have cognitive difficulties where they struggle to remain attentive and focused. These people cannot concentrate as they used to and have memory issues. As a result, these individuals have seen their quality of life decrease because they cannot go about life or work as they used to.
Covid can cause damage to brain tissue via excessive inflammation. Medical professionals observed how the virus triggers the onset of a revved-up immune system to combat the viral infection. But there were times when the immune system became overactive and resulted in chronic inflammation. The latter can contribute to brain tissue damage, known as a cytokine storm. The consequences of prolonged inflammation and a dysregulated immune system are significant as they can lead to neurodegenerative complications like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
The virus was especially severe on vulnerable people. Older adults with pre-existing conditions were more susceptible to experiencing the virus's extreme mental and physical consequences. Medical professionals note how individuals with dementia experienced a rapid decline in their brain health due to Covid. Although people advanced in age were more at risk during the pandemic, some children infected with the virus had an increased risk of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which can have long-lasting consequences on their cognitive development. Individuals with certain biological factors were at risk too.
The Impact Of Negative Mental Health Factors On The Brain
Although it is easier to note the physical and neurological disorders that Covid caused, we all know its mental health impact is just as significant. We have all felt the present moment acutely. This happened when the virus impeded us from distracting ourselves as we were used to. This led to many people not knowing the right coping strategies to adopt. Moreover, the physical and neurological effects of the virus, even the thought of experiencing such consequences, increased our stress and anxiety levels in everyday life too.
At the same time, brain fog raised feelings of frustration and anger in many people. Experiencing two years of prolonged uncertainty, stress, and anxiety is unsuitable for anyone's mental health. It is no wonder that WHO declared that national institutes for mental health facilities worldwide have become undone with the volume of people seeking help.
These mental health strains directly impact how we deal with life because they affect how our brain operates. Studies show that chronic stress and mental health disorders can contribute to functional or structural changes in the brain. Addressing our mental health issues is critical to living serenely and protecting our neurological structure from neurological disorders.
Mental Health Disorders Cause Structural Changes
Studies show that mental health disorders cause changes in the brain. Researchers note how the brain of individuals with mental health disorders has different anatomy compared to a brain that does not deal with adverse mental health factors.
For example, the brains of people with depression have a smaller hippocampus, a critical brain structure responsible for regulating feelings and memory. Similarly, people with schizophrenia have enlarged ventricles, which occur when brain tissue is lost. The structural changes in the brain can cause various disruptions in cognitive functions, behaviors, and feelings.
Mental Health Disorders Cause Neurotransmitter Imbalance
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain responsible for regulating our moods, emotions, and cognitive processes. Studies show that mental health disorders can cause imbalances in these neurotransmitters and inhibit them from doing their job well. Such an imbalance can lead to various consequences.
For example, people with depression have lower levels of serotonin. The latter is an essential neurotransmitter associated with feelings of well-being. There are other imbalances among neurotransmitters caused by mental health disorders, including those in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, and norepinephrine, resulting in a lack of concentration, mood swings, and anxiety.
Mental Health Disorders Affect Neuronal Circuitry And Connectivity
Mental health disorders can affect the connectivity and function of neuronal circuits in the brain. A network of neurons forms the circuits, and their primary role is to create efficiency in communication between the different brain regions.
Researchers note how schizophrenia causes disruptions in these circuits, leading to abnormal sensory experiences and cognitive impairments. In contrast, anxiety disorders cause a heightened connectivity level between the amygdala and other regions in the brain associated with fear. As a result, a person can react with excessive fear and hyperarousal to non-threatening situations.
Mental Health Disorders Impact Neuroplasticity And Gray Matter
Neuroplasticity is the ability of neural networks to adapt by reorganizing synaptic connections and growing when learning something new in life or experiencing an injury. Having our brain adapt to new things is a critical part of living and learning how to handle stress but mental health disorders can keep it from such adaptability.
Long periods of stress, anxiety, or dejection can cause structural changes in the brain through neuroplasticity. For example, chronic stress can reduce the prefrontal cortex's size, an important region where our decision-making and impulse controls reside.
Although negative mental health factors can challenge our neuroplasticity, therapy can have the opposite effect. When we attend counseling sessions, we learn about positive changes and alternatives, thus enhancing the neuroplasticity and gray matter volume in our brain regions.
There are many facets to memory. This cognitive process has various roles, including encoding and retrieving information and storage. Its forms are diverse too. There is working memory, short-term and long-term memory. Memory requires critical brain structures to function optimally. There is the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex, for example.
The link between memory impairments and mental health includes evidence in various studies. Whether it is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, or anxiety, research shows these mental health disorders cause different cognitive challenges, including memory issues.
Depression and Memory
Many people experienced dejection when this infectious disease hit. The uncertainty, isolation, lack of human contact, and the relentless amount of bad news triggered the development of mental health issues as authorities underwent disease control operations to keep the virus spread under control.
This mental health disorder can contribute to various consequences, including memory issues. People with depression can have more difficulty recalling episodic memory and remembering personal experiences or particular events.
The impact on concentration is another consequence, as is a lower ability to take in new information. The persistence of negative thinking in depressive people can cause memory impairment and an inability to handle stress, no matter how small the task may be.
Anxiety Disorders and Memory
Incessant negative thoughts and excessive worry in everyday life characterize anxiety disorders. People with anxiety can have difficulty doing the simplest things, such as walking out of their houses or eating when their anxiety is high.
During covid, many experienced heightened anxiety levels and an inability to handle stress as they faced uncertainty. Similar to depression, anxiety disorders can disrupt concentration and attention, making it more difficult for individuals to process new information and retrieve information accurately. For this reason, people with anxiety can have memory bias, where they unconsciously select what they choose to remember.
PTSD and Memory
Some people have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from their covid trauma. From mental health professionals plunged in unprecedented trauma to patients who were ill and left isolated because they were infectious, many have a hard time remembering the darkest days of the pandemic.
It is a mental health disease that can drastically affect memory. Memories are intrusive rather than evasive in this type of mental health disorder. The person in question can experience terrifying vivid memories, including flashbacks and nightmares during unexpected moments.
Noise, images, and a specific location can trigger people with PTSD and take them back to a dark moment in their life that feels inescapable. Although the memories are automatic, people with PTSD experience memory gaps, too, and they often have difficulty remembering specific events. In this case, the brain attempts to protect the person from trauma by suppressing particular memories.
Schizophrenia and Memory
Research shows that the risk of schizophrenia increases by 11 percent with severe Covid infection. This mental health disorder causes cognitive deficits, including memory issues. People with schizophrenia have difficulties with working memory, making it more challenging to remember temporary information. Episodic memory is also tricky when schizophrenia is present. Individuals can have a hard time remembering specific events in their lives.
Changing The State Of Your Brain Health
Memory issues, brain fog, and impeding mental health disorders are some of the ways Covid has affected our brain health. Although many of us are trying to lead the life, we led before the pandemic. It is one of the most straightforward coping strategies; realizing that your brain health demands work is critical. Hence, you'll be able to find the right coping skills because the brain is a complex organ that affects every aspect of your body and, ultimately, your life.
Best 7 Ways to Keep Your Brain Healthy
We all have varied coping styles, but some healthy habits are universal and can serve us well, regardless of age, gender, or health status. The following are the top ways you can improve your cognitive processes.
Use Natural Supplements
Although medicine has made us live safer and longer, we should never dismiss the power of natural ingredients to improve our physical and mental well-being. Honey is an excellent example of a natural ingredient with remarkable health benefits. Other less-known natural ingredients can promote brain health too.
Memoregain AIE2 is raw material extracted from Cistanche Tubulosa. The latter is a desert holoparasitic plant species, also known as the "desert ginseng," that many have used for centuries to treat various ailments, including cardiovascular health, the immune system, mental health, and inflammation. This traditional Chinese herb hosts a raw material called Memoregain AIE2. The latter can contribute various benefits to brain health. The raw material can decelerate brain degeneration, enhance memory and increase neurotransmitters and, in the process, improve cognitive function. Memoregain can slow down the deterioration of brain cells and lower the risk of dementia.
Exercise To Promote Brain And Physical Health
Exercise is critical for our physical health, but we may forget how essential working out is for the brain and its positive impact on our mental health. Aerobic activities increase the blood flow in the brain. Moreover, exercise increases endorphins in the brain, leading to less stress in everyday life, a better mood, and improved cognitive functions. Social well-being is another benefit of exercise when working out with a buddy or participating in a class.
Challenge Your Brain
We have plenty of mental stimulation in life, but that does not mean we're challenging our brains, especially if we are mindlessly scrolling or doing the same things. For optimal brain health, we need to challenge our brains.
For example, memory games, crosswords, chess, and puzzles can help this vital organ become sharp again after the stress of the pandemic. For a more significant and longer-lasting challenge, try to learn a musical instrument or a language to improve your cognitive flexibility and promote neuroplasticity. Challenging brain activities allow you to indulge in problem-solving techniques, expand your attention span and improve memory while lessening the impact of age-related cognitive decline.
Many of us did not consume the best diet during lockdown. Yet, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins is essential for the body, especially the brain. Foods like nuts, berries, fatty fish, and whole grains help nourish the brain, while processed and sugar-loaded food does the opposite. As per a study, there's a link between highly-processed food and cognitive decline.
Experience Quality Sleep
The brain demands that we sleep well because, during this time, it can process information, consolidate memories and rejuvenate itself. Although the time varies from one person to another, the ideal range of sleeping time is between 7 to 9 hours for adults. Creating a serene sleep routine helps, especially if you are experiencing poor-quality sleep. Music, books, scents, and lighting can create a peaceful atmosphere. You can also listen to slow literature tales to fall asleep more peacefully.
Adopt Mindfulness And Meditation As The Ultimate Coping Strategies
For centuries, mindfulness practices and meditation have helped practitioners return to the present moment. Much like Covid, these practices will have you facing the present moment and accepting it as it is, no matter how challenging.
Yet, while Covid overwhelmed us, meditation and mindfulness practices are gentler. These practices are perfect if you want to improve your focus and concentration. Through your breath, you realize you can view your life without judgment and ease your stress, anxiety, and depression. As a result, you improve your brain health. Mindfulness practices and meditation are the best coping strategies to lead a serener life.
The research to back up the benefits of meditation is vast, highlighting it as the best coping strategy for anyone dealing with mental health struggles. Studies show mindfulness practices can improve focus, attention, and emotional regulation. Meditation can also increase gray matter density in the brain regions, thus enhancing memory and learning. Ten minutes of meditation daily is enough to arm yourself with one of the best coping skills we have as humans. You can also consciously practice mindfulness every moment of your day by focusing on the present moment.
Make The Most Of Social Interactions
The virus deprived us of social support and the benefits of social well-being. No matter how many calls we made daily, we all missed the live interactions we had taken for granted. Now that the pandemic is long past, we can and should make the most of social support systems because they are essential for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Our brain needs group activities and meaningful conversations to improve cognitive function and get stimulated.
The World Health Organization declared recently mental health is a global issue as more people have or will experience a mental health issue. Facing your mental health issues is vital to avoid the degeneration of your brain. There are various mental health professionals out there who can help you realize there is more to life than fear. They will help you identify the right coping skills for your lifestyle. Through psychological help, you can learn about different coping strategies, including emotion-focused strategies that are healthier and better for your brain and avoid negative behavior that causes you more harm than good.
Covid plunged us into uncertain times, making it hard for many people to cope. Even so, humans have experienced pandemics and will do so in the future. Learning how to deal with the uncertainty life throws at us is how we can live life with fewer mental health struggles. Our brain is a magnificent organ, but we must prioritize our health to work optimally. Using the power of nature, mindfulness practices, and seeking help can improve your brain health post-Covid.