Listen: Sheridan Voysey chats to Katrina Roe
I thought I was getting through this Covid crisis okay—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.
- Zoom and Skype are more exhausting than in-person meetings due to the concentration required and subconscious ‘performative’ behaviour they inspire. And we’ve taken to both to work and socialise.
- Uncertainty breeds stress, which impairs thinking. While it takes three months to adapt to major life changes, our situation continues to change as lockdown lifts by trial and error.
- Unfinished goals and plans can linger in our subconscious. Those business projects, holidays or weddings you had planned can hang around as unfinished tasks in your memory.
- 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, political tensions around the world, Black Lives Matter protests, disasters like the Beirut explosion, or the personal challenges we had before Coronavirus arrived. 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:
- 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.
- Get a handle on those uncompleted goals, by turning your unfinished tasks into a list. This is a form of planning which helps mitigate the effects of uncertainty.
- 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.
- Take a social media fast. Imagine how much cognitive clutter all that scrolling is piling up in your subconscious.
- Journaling is a powerful way to process tension and emotions. You don’t have to do it every day, just when it’s needed
- Reflect on nature. Research has found just 20 seconds of meditation on nature a day helps improve well-being
- Try a ‘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.
I receive your joy… and release my unhappiness.
I receive your peace… and release my anxiety.
Mechanics never did work 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 okay.
* A version of this article was first broadcast on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2.
Join Me On Retreat
If you’re ready to take some time out to reflect, please join me for the next Who You Can Become When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned online retreat. Through stories, scripture, video clips, prayer and silence we will journey together to find new identity and purpose in these uncertain times. The retreat starts Tuesday August 18th, 2020..
Article supplied with thanks to Sheridan Voysey. About the Author: Sheridan Voysey is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on faith and spirituality. His books include Resilient, Resurrection Year, and Unseen Footprints. Get his FREE eBook Five Practices for a Resilient Life here.