Updated: Mar 23
With the world two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are learning that mental health concerns and crises continue to rise. Millions of people have been affected directly or indirectly by the virus. And that’s not including the potential long-term effects it may have on our global community.
Most recently, scientists have discovered what we are calling the “pandemic brain”, a newly-recognized effect of the pandemic with ADHD-like symptoms. As a result, it comes as no surprise that adults who are now wondering whether they’ve developed ADHD may actually be suffering from pandemic brain.
So what is pandemic brain, how can we distinguish it from ADHD, and what can we do to protect against it? That’s what we’ll walk you through in this article, so read on to learn more.
What is pandemic brain?
Pandemic brain is defined as a type of mental fog brought about by the stress of the pandemic with symptoms similar to that of ADHD.
New research has indicated that pandemic brain is caused by increased neuroinflammation in the regions of the brain linked to increased signs of depression, fatigue, and brain fog. In short, the constant stress caused by the pandemic is leading to our fight-or-flight response being on overdrive, making it difficult to focus, organize, and complete tasks.
How was it discovered?
Researchers have been investigating the potential effects of the pandemic on mental health across the globe since 2020. After conducting a systematic review of 19 studies with a total of 93,569 participants, Xiong and colleagues described the pandemic as an unprecedented threat to the mental health of the general public. You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that they identified females and adults ≤40 as groups of people who were often associated with higher levels of stress (and at a higher risk for pandemic mental health challenges).
In another study, Brusaferri and colleagues hypothesized that the lifestyle disruptions resulting from COVID-19 public health lock-down efforts would have a negative impact on the brain health of otherwise healthy individuals. After reviewing MRI data on the brains of participants before vs after the pandemic, they identified elevated signals in the regions of the brain associated with stress, depression, and “sickness behaviors”, which was also higher in individuals reporting elevated symptoms.
Findings like those seen in the study by Brusaferri and colleagues indicate that pandemic brain is affecting people not even infected with COVID-19 (versus the brain fog associated with the long-COVID symptoms of previously infected individuals).
Why is pandemic brain getting confused with ADHD?
Because pandemic brain is manifesting symptoms connected with focus and organization, many people confuse the condition with adult onset ADHD. It can also be confusing since pandemic brain is a new concept for which a clear diagnosis has not been established or approved.
However, the best way to identify pandemic brain is by first ruling out ADHD, which is a well-characterized neurodevelopmental condition usually recognized/diagnosed in early childhood or adolescence.
What to do about pandemic brain?
Pandemic brain is likely impacting millions of people globally, and the long-term effects of the pandemic on mental health is still yet to be determined. This is why now more than ever is the time to really focus on taking care of your brain health.
You can help address and counteract pandemic brain by implementing health practices shown to improve brain health. Some examples of these practices include the following:
Performing exercise, and
Improving sleep quality.
Taking care of the health of your mind is especially important during these trying times. You owe it to yourself to start implementing important health practices into your daily routine that can help counteract pandemic brain.
What will you be doing to help stave off pandemic brain? Comment below and let us know.